« Health & Fitness

Does the noise from riding motorcycles cause hearing loss too?

by Susan Fenrich

Yes, motorcyclists are at a special risk for permanent hearing loss. Most motorcyclists understand the effects of the “silent killer” follow them every time they enjoy riding their bikes. Unfortunately, several people still think that hearing loss is caused by how loud the motorcycle is and that if you wear a helmet one’s hearing is protected.  Even though there is truth in that, research studies have shown that the major contributor to hearing loss for motorcyclist is the “silent killer” which is “wind noise”

“Wind noise’ is the amount of noise turbulence produced around the head while the rider is in motion.  Exposure to this turbulence over a period of time can cause irreversible hearing loss when adequate ear protection is not worn.  If this issue is not addressed correctly from the beginning the amount of exposure to the inner ear is compounded every time the rider rides his/her bike for hours at a time.  Constant duration of harmful level noises gradually cause permanent hearing loss.

Let’s compare this to other noise exposure.  According to OSHA, an average worker that is exposed to sound levels around 80-85dB for an eight hour day will not exceed the limits of exposure time within a 24 hour period.  However, when the sound level exceeds 100dB your exposure time is limited to two hours before permanent damage can occur.    When sound levels exceed 115dB, your exposure time is reduced to 15 minutes.  “Wind Noise” at highway speeds can measure up to 103dB!  That makes the noise exposure on a motorcycle comparable to that of a chainsaw!  At these levels, the rider is not only fatiguing physically, from noise exposure, he or she will no doubt need a hearing aid later in life.

Another common problem of riding a motorcycle is called “Temporary Threshold Shift” (TTS).  This happens when excessive noise exposure drops your actual hearing pattern to a lower level temporarily causing you to hear less than you did before the noise exposure.  Continuous TTS exposure will result in permanent hearing loss.  Everyone has experienced TTS at one time or another--perhaps at a dance hall, rock concert, or loud movie theater, or from a noisy hobby or job.  This will most certainly happen to the motorcycle rider if adequate hearing protection is not worn.

Now that you understand the problem, you need to know how to protect your hearing.  One would think that riding position, windshields and helmets would offer enough protection. The truth is even the snuggest fitting helmets produce wind noise readings of 110 to 116dB’s from highway speeds of 35mph.  That only allows a 15 minute joy ride.   And when stopped at a stop sign with your visor closed the sound level is 80-90dB (like a lawn mower).  The best solution for suppressing the sound of wind noise is a custom set of ear molds.  They provide excellent noise reduction and are comfortable to wear for an extended period of time. They can even be molded with high-grade transducers, which allow for stereo compatibility or communications. 

Stop in at Welsch Hearing Aid and see what we can do to help.