The biggest risk to your hearing when riding a motorcycle is exhaust and engine noise, right?Wrong. It’s actually the wind noise.
How Wind Noise Can Damage Your Ears
Thirty million Americans are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in the workplace, in recreational settings and at home—and motorcyclists are among them.¹ The good news is that NIHL is 100 percent preventable, but once it happens, the hearing loss can be permanent. Among motorcyclists, NIHL is attributed to noise from the turbulent airflow around the helmet, “wind noise.”
Do helmets help prevent hearing loss for motorcycle noise?
Many different styles of motorcycle helmets are available, with full-face and open-face helmets being the two main options. However, noise levels under a motorcyclist’s helmet are high – between 80 to 110 dB² – and increase rapidly with road speed, which can cause hearing loss after just an hour. Unfortunately, many motorcyclists are under the impression that a helmet provides adequate hearing protection.
Why motorcycle noise is harmful
Over the past several years, motorcycle development has led to quieter bikes with radically improved performance. However, excessive exposure to noise caused by wind is still a concern. At 40 mph, a motorcyclist is exposed to 90 dB of low frequency wind noise caused by turbulent airflow around the helmet. At 100 mph, the noise level is around 110 dB, which is safe for less than five minutes per day.³ The faster you go, the louder the sound is. The longer you are exposed to it, the more it can damage or destroy the inner ear’s sensory hair cells, which cannot grow back on their own.
Regardless of the choice of helmet, motorcycle or seating position, noise levels are consistently damaging and are in excess of 90 dB. Helmets offer protection from fatal injuries, bumps and bruises, but do not keep out much of the noise. Studies have indicated that the maximum noise reduction from wearing a typical helmet is around 7 to 10 dB4. After long periods of time at high speeds, riders commonly report symptoms like fatigue, tinnitus, headaches and even disequilibrium.³
How to Protect Your Ears
There are some things riders can do to help prevent hearing loss.
Wear earplugs when riding a motorcycle. Disposable foam earplugs are inexpensive and can quiet up to 25 dB of sound, which can mean the difference between dangerous and safe levels of noise. Earplugs will not interfere with your ability to hear problems with the engine or surrounding warning signals.Avoid highspeed runs, which cause excessive wind noise (or at the minimum, wear earplugs).
Wear earmuffs, which are fitted inside the helmet and can be switched on and off. They are effective at reducing “at-ear” wind noise.
Use noise-cancelling earphones if you listen to music while you ride (instead of turning up the volume to drown out engine or wind noise). Studies have found that people in noisy settings turn up the volume to an average listening level of 93 dB.
Have your hearing tested to determine your current hearing levels. If you’ve lost some hearing, you can take steps to prevent further loss.
What else should you know about noise-induced hearing loss
There is no cure for permanent hearing loss. One of the most obvious “treatments” for NIHL is avoiding exposure to loud noise. Hearing loss is rarely painful and the symptoms are usually vague feelings of pressure or fullness in the ears and may go away minutes, hours or days after the exposure to noise ends. Many people assume that if the symptoms go away, their ears have “bounced back” to normal and don’t realize that hearing loss accumulates over a lifetime.
Schedule Your Hearing Assessment
Take the first step in having your hearing checked by a licensed hearing professional. It only takes one minute to request an appointment for your hour-long hearing assessment. Call 866-837-8286 (866-TEST-AT-60) or visit campaignforbetterhearing.us today.
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1 “Crank it down.” National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Inside NIDCD Newsletter. Summer 2006. www.nidcd.nih.gov/newsletter/2006/summer/crank-it-down Accessed March 25, 2019.
2 “Listen Up! Protect Your Hearing” (Infographic). www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/listen-infographic Accessed March 25, 2019.
3 Andrew W McCombe, MD FRCS(ORL). “Hearing loss in motorcyclists: occupational and medicolegal aspects.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. J R Soc Med. 2003 Jan; 96(1): 7–9. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539364/
4 M C Lower, et. al. “Noise Levels And Noise Reduction Under Motorcycle Helmets.” Proceedings of Internoise 96. (Conference publication) www.isvr.co.uk/reprints/inter96mc.pdf Accessed March 25, 2019.