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Can Loud Stores Cause Hearing Loss?

You might need to wear ear plugs the next time you're shopping in your favorite retail store. Loud music blaring from store speakers is the hot new trend. But is the music just a nuisance or damaging to your ears?
You might need to wear ear plugs the next time you're shopping in your favorite retail store. Loud music blaring from store speakers is the hot new trend. But is the music just a nuisance or damaging to your ears?

Clothing stores like Abercrombie and Fitch are attracting younger crowds by "pumping up the volume."

“Well, I’m not in the new hip trend group so I don't particularly like it. I've been in Abercrombie and Fitch and I didn't stay very long because the music was loud,” said shopper Carletta Edmondson.

Susan James liked to go to Park Plaza mall in Little Rock for her daily walk, until one day the loud music sent her running for the exit.

“It was before 10:00 in the morning and the noise went awry. There were all the people scurrying around and there were all these senior citizens trying to shield their ears and they couldn't get it turned off and it went on for about 12 minutes and I thought I'm going to leave,” said James.

So how loud is the music routinely inside Abercrombie and Fitch? We used a decibel meter to check and it pegged at 85 decibels.  That's about the same level as busy city traffic, or an idling bulldozer. Your lawnmower and hair dryer are just slightly louder with decibel readings in the low 90's.

Doctor Michael Winston, director of audiology at UAMS, saysm “A level of 85 is considered hazardous if you're exposed to it for more than eight hours a day."

Customers usually don't spend eights hours in one store, but employees do.
Riley Mason is a former employee and a frequent shopper at Abercrombie and Fitch. He didn't have a problem with the music.

“If you work there, you kind of get used to it. You enjoy it,” said Mason.
Mason says the music levels didn't stop customers from shopping.

“We were used to leaning across the counter, especially if they were soft spoken, reading lips. But it really didn't inhibit anything we were doing,” said Mason.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration require employees working around noise of 85 decibels or higher to protect their ears.

“As long as it’s below 85, you can be around it 24 hours a day. At 85, you're limited to 8 hours a day. At 90 (and you said there were a couple of places that were louder) you're limited to 4 hours a day,” said Dr. Winston.

Luckily for them, some stores know when enough is enough.

“Most industries are aware that 85 is the 'line in the sand'," said Dr. Winston.

But there's a fine line between hearing and hearing loss. So, to avoid "getting an earful" turn down the volume and turn up your level of protection.

We made several attempts to contact Abercrombie and Fitch for comments on our story but they haven't returned our calls.  We also recorded the decibels levels in other stores that played music over the speakers like "The Limited" and "New York and Company". Their levels were found to be lower.

Hearing Loss and Decibel Readings

Painful
150 dB = rock music peak

140 dB = firearms, air raid siren, jet engine

130 dB = jackhammer

120 dB = jet plane take-off, amplified rock music at 4-6 ft., car stereo, band practice

Extremely Loud
110 dB = rock music, model airplane

106 dB = timpani and bass drum rolls

100 dB = snowmobile, chain saw, pneumatic drill

90 dB = lawnmower, shop tools, truck traffic, subway

Very Loud
80 dB = alarm clock, busy street

70 dB = busy traffic, vacuum cleaner

60 dB = conversation, dishwasher

Moderate
50 dB = moderate rainfall

40 dB = quiet room

Faint
30 dB = whisper, quiet library

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