Ask Your Question

Angie's List Answers is the trusted spot to ask home improvement and health questions and get answers from service companies, health providers and consumers. For ratings and reviews on companies in your area, search Angie's List.

Top 30 Days Experts
Rank Leader Points*
1 kstreett 240
2 Guest_9020487 110
3 Guest_9190926 105
4 GoldenKid 100
5 ahowell 95
6 KnowledgeBase 95
7 skbloom 80
8 Guest_98024861 70
9 Guest_9311297 70
10 Guest_9400529 70

*Updates every 4 hours

Browse Projects By Category

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

Do you have the same question? Follow this Question

1 Answer


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).

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 3 years ago by LCD

Related Questions

Terms Of Use
Privacy Policy