You’ll be shocked to learn just how little daily exposure to subway noise can damage your hearing.

Do you ride the subway to work every day yet don’t wear protection in your ears to prevent hearing loss?

Protection can be earplugs or the type of ear “muffs” that you see industrial workers wearing.

“New Yorkers may not realize that their daily commute via subways may actually be exposing them to damaging levels of noise!” says Rivka Strom, AuD, CCC-A, Director of Audiology, Advanced Hearing NY Inc.

“While in the subway car noise levels reach 75-85 dB,” continues Strom. A dB is a decibel, a unit of sound volume. The higher the number, the louder the sound.

“Outside on the busy subway platforms there are large crowds of people, subway performers and multiple trains passing by at once. Here, the noise levels can reach from to 94 to 106 dB!

“At a level of 85 dB the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says that a person should be exposed to this level of noise for a maximum of eight hours.

“At 94 dB the allowed amount of time becomes one hour, and at 106 dB the time becomes 3.7 minutes!

“We can see how extended periods of time in busy subway stations could be causing damage to your hearing.

“What’s important to keep in mind is the effect of noise exposure is cumulative.

“That means that throughout their day they may be exposed to varying levels of noise, often surpassing the allowable time limit.”

You Rely on the Subway for Transportation

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health did research into how much daily subway noise can harm hearing: just 30 minutes a day.

The study included recording decibel levels of sound in NYC’s subway system.

Now before I go on about this study, I’d like to ask if you take pepper spray with you for protection — just in case should you need it while waiting on a subway platform or when in the train.

Just like you won’t go without your pepper spray, you should not venture into the subway without hearing protection. Yes, the noise is THAT potentially damaging.

The report (Journal of Urban Health, Sept. 2006) states that daily subway noise (and this includes on the platforms waiting for the trains, not just inside the trains), “has the potential to cause hearing loss.”

Highest Decibel Level on Subway Platform

The paper says it was 106 decibels.

In the study, greater than one in 10 subway platform measurements was louder than 100 dB; this means a time allowance of 90 seconds. Inside the cars, however, the noise was even louder.

Average maximum level of noise on a subway platform came in at 94 dB. The inside average was 95.

How loud is this?

  • A chainsaw is about 100 dB, and a gunblast is 140 dB.
  • Normal conversation is 45-60.

Will ear buds help?

Ear buds with music loud enough to drown out some of the subway noise will not offset the potential hearing loss from the train; it will make things worse, says the report.

Solution to Harmful Subway Noise

It’s simple. Wear ear plugs. Custom made ear plugs (available at audiology/hearing aid centers) are far superior to store-bought ones.

Dr. Strom is a member of the American Speech Language and Hearing Association and has received several awards including Brooklyn College’s Excellence In Audiology Award.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 


Top image: Shutterstock/ANDRANIK HAKOBYAN