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Question DetailsAsked on 4/15/2017

Can a noisy AC affect my hearing?

When the AC turns on, it makes a very noisy thump and I sit about 6 ft from it

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Common noise levels -

Reefer running - 40 decibels (db)

Home conversation - about 50 db

Office background conversations - 50-60 db

Vacuum cleaner (normal type, not some turbine types which can run much higher in some frequencies) - 70 db

City traffic - 85 db



Now - air conditioners (assuming you mean a central A/C or window A/C unit since you are talking a thump when it kicks on) - typically 50-60 db for the quietest units while running, generally about 80-90 commonly when starting up (the "thump" as the unit tries to start under load).



Level at which hearing damage occurs - above about 80-85 db for sounds repeated or heards for extended periods of time, about 110-125 db for short-term (hour or few) sounds, 125-130 is generally where immediate permanent hearing loss is considered to start. However - industrial hygiene studies have determined that you can get temporary frequency hearing loss as low as around the 60-70 db range and permanent from about 70-75 db - meaning you go partly temporarily or in extreme cases permanently deaf at that particular frequency after prolonged (many days) of exposure.



Operating engineers, transportation workers, factory workers, elevator operators, etc who are around equipment or a process running for prolonged periods at a constant frequency have been common types of workers who experience this at less than the accepted "permanent damage" levels of say 85 db or more. For instance, I am essentially deaf at three frequencies - one matching a 50 cal machine gun from high-intensity sound, and two frequencies which match the normal idle and cruising rpm's of the engines on a PT boat I used to crew on as engineer, even though I wore good (at the time) hearing protection - but the very prolonged exposure caused selective frequency hearing loss at less than 85 db. Shorter-term exposures or time away from it will commonly (especially below about 70-75 db exposure range) result in regaining most or all the loss.



So - possible you have selective frequency loss, but unless you are sitting exposed to the sound directly (no windows or walls between you and it) it would most likely be temporary only.



There is also selective audio exclusion discrimination - your sensory system basically gets overloaded with a certain sound and "tunes it out" to better discriminate the intermittent or unusual sounds - like people who live near railroad tracks or airports or freeways generally don't even notice those sounds after a month or two exposure. Not an ear thing - this is an ancestral heriditary nervous system behavior harkening back to when humans were wild animals (all right, no Trump jokes now) which screens out common environmental sounds so the body can better hear things of note or potentially dangerous - which is how if you sit quietly somewhere out in the wilds, you will initially hear a mismash of wild sounds but after 15-20 minutes or so the background sounds like wind in the trees or running water fades out and you can start to hear minor sounds that were initially blended in. Also how things like something rattling in the wind or a baby crying can wake you up instantly, because it is an unusual (background) sound - yet if your baby is at the crying itself to sleep age, you can go to sleep while it is still crying. Can happen with all sorts of common sounds - like a husband or wife's voice, for instance - you can tune it right out because it is familiar and not considered a hazard or "alarming" sound. Also why small sounds are more irritating at night - not only because the background noise level is generally lower in the first place so other sounds are more noticeable, but the body (when at rest) "tunes out" the background sounds and pays more attention to minor or unusual sounds which it thinks might indicate danger.



Article on different sound levels and potentially hazardous effects here - many more at NIOSH website (the medical research arm which OSHA uses to assess medical workplace risks).



https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/nois...



To tell for certain you would need a test of the A/C for what frequencies it is operating at, then a hearing chamber test of your hearing. If this is at work, you might talk to HR about your concerns - they would, if a credible health threat, be required to pay for testing and for remediation of the threat - by moving you further away, or installing sound baffles between you and it, or install a sound deadening kit (a standard optional item on most types of ground and window mounted units, as opposed to rooftop units) on the A/C itself. Vegetation screening or lattice panels are also commonly used for this sort of sound screening.

Answered 1 year ago by LCD




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