If watching fireworks is a part of your Fourth of July tradition, then you probably know the best way to enjoy the show. You’ll get to your local park early to get the best spot, bring comfortable lawn chairs, pack a blanket in case it gets chilly, and cover yourself in bug spray to protect against mosquitoes. But do you do anything to protect your ears?
The dangers of fireworks
While fireworks are fun to watch, they can do irreversible damage to your hearing. Any sounds higher than 85 decibels (dB) can put you at risk for hearing loss. The noise from fireworks can easily exceed 150 dB and even reach up to 175 dB.
While other factors can mitigate the effects, such as the distance above ground the fireworks explode and how far away you sit from them, simply watching a fireworks display can expose you to those dangerous noise levels. Lighting fireworks yourself in the backyard can also expose you to danger. Although the fireworks sold to consumers generally aren’t as loud as the commercial versions, you’re in closer proximity to them going off so they can still be damaging—and present other safety risks.
It’s also important to note that age plays a factor in how fireworks affect people. While it’s recommended that adults avoid being exposed to noise levels of 140 dB, that threshold is lower for children (120 dB) since their ears are more sensitive and susceptible to damage.
Safe ways to watch fireworks
While there are some risks involved with watching fireworks, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them. You just need to take precautions. For instance, since the volume will decrease farther away from the source of noise, you’ll be safer seated away from where they go off.
Another way to enjoy fireworks safely is to use hearing protection. From foam earplugs and protective earmuffs to custom ear protection, such items will diminish the sound and protect you from excessive noise. While kids can wear most hearing protections safely, it is best to leave infants at home. Since their ear canals aren’t large enough for earplugs, and the sound pressure is greater, babies are especially susceptible to damage from loud noise.
An alternative to traditional fireworks shows are “quiet fireworks.” These displays still deliver the colorful bursts of light but at a lower volume, helping to minimize the risks of viewers developing hearing loss. They also reduce stress on animals, since the loud volume of fireworks can scare pets into running away and endanger wildlife like deer that may run into the streets to escape the noise.
Fireworks are an essential part of any Fourth of July celebration, and they’re often enjoyed all summer long. To ensure you enjoy the show and minimize the risk of hearing loss, remember to keep your hearing health in mind. Otherwise, those “oohs” and “ahhs” can turn into “ows” for your ears.