We all know that loud noises can harm our ears and even cause irreversible hearing loss. This is especially true when we are exposed to loud noises over an extended period of time.
So, it should be no surprise that new research conducted by the Saint Louis University School of Medicine and The Ear Institute of Texas has confirmed as much – that prolonged exposure to road noise and wind buffeting while riding in top-down convertibles can cause hearing damage.
The study, published in the Journal of Laryngology & Otology, found that opening the top of a convertible boosted the noise level by up to 14.6 decibels (dB), and into the range harmful to hearing. Testing concluded that driving at 55 mph or higher with the top down resulted in noise above 85 dB, which the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has determined to be the level at which hearing loss may occur with prolonged exposure.
Several factors play a part in these results, but none may be more important than the type of convertible you choose to take for a spin. Of the vehicles tested, the Saturn Sky produced the most top-down noise: 91 dB at 55 mph. That’s more than 20 dB louder than the Saab Aero, the quietest in the test group.
This difference in noise levels is significant, because our perception of noise is an interesting thing. Something that is 20 dB louder than something else sounds about four times louder. And, that’s pretty loud. It is also pretty tricky. Add to that the fact that sometimes our ears are not able to tell us when something is too loud. For example, riding in a Saturn Sky at 55 mph can be compared to standing 200 feet away from a passing subway train - a train that keeps passing and passing for the duration of your time in the car.
But, it’s hard to hear how loud it is when you’re also being buffeted by wind, not to mention the distraction of having a great time while riding in a convertible. Plus, if you already have hearing loss, you may have even more trouble perceiving just how loud - and damaging - the noise is.
Fortunately, there is help for you if you’ve spent many a mile on the open road with the top down. If you think you may have hearing loss due to noise exposure, be it from cruising Route 66, from your work environment, or from any other source, you should visit your local hearing center for a professional evaluation.