Desk fan related hearing loss?
August 31, 2005 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Can my desk fan damage my hearing?

I just got a new super-powerful fan for my desk. I love it, but I'm a little concerned because, while it isn't actually loud, the sound from it seems to fill my ears and drown out the other noises around me. I can hear what's coming out of my computer speakers (which are closer to me than the fan). But I don't hear the traffic outside my window, I don't hear the normal house noises, etc. It's sitting about 4-5 feet from me. When I step out of "the line of fire" I feel like I've come up from underwater, and my usual sense of hearing is restored immediately. I'd actually be glad that its blocking out distractions, just as long as I could be sure that it's not damaging my hearing. Thanks!
posted by leapingsheep to Health & Fitness (6 answers total)
I think that's one of the benefits of a desk fan, it drowns out ambient noise with white noise. It probably dosen't actually put out enough sound to damage your hearing, but if you want a quieter fan, check out the ones made by Vornado. A $7 desk fan costs $40 from them, but they're almost silent.
posted by andrewzipp at 7:11 AM on August 31, 2005

Probably not a major concern, but I do remember from a sound engineering class in college that volume is not the only factor for hearing loss, but also length of continuous exposure to sound. So one hour at a really loud concert might be equivalent to one week at a somewhat less noisey factory (I have no idea if that comparison is true, but you get the idea).

I would guess that as long as you're not in front of it all day every day, you should be fine.
posted by p3t3 at 8:02 AM on August 31, 2005

I can't imagine the decibels are actually loud enough to damage your hearing. An aquaintance worked in a shop area where they replaced the air conditioning system, relocating the main components right outside his area of the building. He had to buy a meter and graph the levels of unacceptable noise (spiking above 130) before they did anything about it.

I sleep with a loud fan next to my bed and there are times when I notice certain frequencies that seem absolutely maddening - like the entry level noises of an alarm clock as it ramps up, but at a constant hum. I have to focus a little bit to not perceive these ranges of sound but I doubt they are harmful. I'd also attribute them to being electrical activity in the motor and not the result of the fanning action, but that's probably a moot distinction.

I am no audio expert though. Maybe there are such things as repetitive stress injuries for the ear components from extended exposure to certain ranges? p3t3s comments seem to suggest it is a possibility.
posted by prostyle at 8:17 AM on August 31, 2005

I think for low dB sounds (like fans), it would take continuous exposure for years before there's any noticeable permanent loss, but it probably is possible.

You start losing hearing with the high end of the frequency range, and most people do lose a bit by their 50s or 60s. But I really don't know how much loss is normal, or how much things like air conditioners, fans, etc, contribute to average hearing loss.
posted by p3t3 at 8:40 AM on August 31, 2005

The fan won't damage your hearing, unless it's a really loud fan, which it doesn't sound like it is. White noise blocks your ability to discriminate among sounds long before it gets loud enough to damage your ears.

I keep a HEPA filter running most of the time in my house because it's such a good white noise source.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:52 PM on August 31, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by leapingsheep at 2:06 PM on August 31, 2005

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