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Cruising with the top down? Cover your ears

October 6, 2009 |  9:30 am

Riding in a convertible with the windows down appears to expose people to noise levels that, over time, can damage hearing, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation in San Diego.

Convertible Dr. Philip Michael, a British ear, nose and throat surgeon who loves his own convertible, assessed noise levels in seven different cars traveling at speeds of 50, 60 and 70 miles per hour. He found drivers were consistently exposed to noise levels between 88 and 90 decibels. Previous research suggests that repeated exposure to noise over 85 decibels can result in hearing loss.

However, keeping the car windows up, even with the top down, reduced noise levels to 82 decibels. "A large component of the noise you are exposed to is wind noise," he said.

But the noise is generated from a variety of sources, Michael said, including from the engine, exhaust and tires and from other cars and trucks on the road. While Michael did not study noise from surrounding traffic, he suggests that driving slower may actually increase noise exposure.

"If there is a lot more traffic you can get exposed to more noise," he said. "If you're driving slower, you may be overtaken by trucks, which cause more noise and take longer to go around you."

More research should be done to test hearing before and after a drive, he said. Studies should also be conducted on noise exposure to people who drive enclosed cars with the windows down.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: BMW Group / Associated Press 

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