Inspired by a YouTube video where kids at a party popped hundreds of balloons, researchers from the University of Alberta did an experiment to find out how noise from bursting balloons can impact hearing — and the results were shocking.
Louder Than A 12-Gauge Shotgun
Hearing experts Bill Hodgetts and Dylan Scott wore ear protection and used a high-pressure microphone and preamplifier to do their experiment. They measured the noise levels from popping balloons in three different ways: poking them with a pin, blowing them with air until they burst, and crushing them until they exploded.
They recorded the loudest bang at almost 168 decibels — 4 decibels louder than a high-powered, 12-gauge shotgun — from blowing a balloon with air until it ruptured.
Hodgetts and Scott's findings suggest that while people may dismiss balloon noise as harmless, nothing could be further from the truth. The current recommendation of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety for the maximum impulse level should never go beyond 140 decibels.
The result of the study is published online in the journal Canadian Audiologist.
"We are not saying don't play with balloons and don't have fun, just try to guard against popping them. Hearing loss is insidious — every loud noise that occurs has a potential lifelong impact. We want people to be mindful of hearing damage over a lifetime, because once you get to the back end of life, no hearing aid is as good as the once healthy built-in system in your inner ear," Hodgetts explained.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can be caused by a one-time exposure to a powerful impulse sound, such as the explosion of balloons described above, or incessant exposure to loud sounds over a long period of time.
Constant exposure to noise, even as low as 85 decibels — for example, the noise from cars honking their horns in a city traffic — can make a person vulnerable to hearing loss. Basically, the louder the sound is, the less amount of time it takes for NIHL to occur.
Target shooting, playing in a band, attending rock concerts, and listening to music players at full blast through earbuds or headphones are some activities that may be harmful to your ears as well.
Hearing Loss, An Invisible Problem
About one in every eight people in the United States — 30 million or at 13 percent of the population — aged 12 years or older has reported hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.
Hodgetts described hearing loss as an invisible problem, which people don't take seriously until they have it and starts affecting their quality of life. He encouraged the public, especially the parents, to be proactive about cumulative hearing loss, which may be a passive but a real health issue to be concerned about, too.