YOUR PERSONAL HEALTH
How to protect yourself against the world’s biggest burp
(and other loud noises)
By A. T. McPhee
Natasha Welch, 15,
of Clayton, Ga.,
wigs out from the
force of a big burp
at a dB drag race.
The guy is big. I mean big, OK? Sleeveless
T-shirt. Tattoos. Long hair. Deep, gravelly
voice, like Darth Vader with a bad
cold. He’s standing next to his van and telling
me how loud he can burp. Seriously. Then he
lets one rip.
The sound is so loud, it cracks the windshield
right down the middle. Now, that’s a
burp. “Yeah,” says Bob Perillo. “I’ve cracked
Let me pause here to explain that I’m
standing at the starting (and finish) line of an
unusual auto competition at Maple Grove
Speedway in Mohnton, Pa. The burps I’m hear-
Current Health 2 · Copyright © by Weekly Reader Corporation
ing aren’t the ones that come from someone’s
stomach. They’re noises that come from a tangled
mass of wires, speakers, and batteries
packed into each contestant’s car. Or in
Perillo’s case, his beat-up old gray van.
Welcome to dB drag racing!
Death By Decibels
Decibel, or dB, drag racing is one of the world’s
newest competitive events. (A decibel is a measurement
of the loudness of a sound.) In the
competition, two cars at a time go head-tohead,
each trying to outburp the other. In this,
um, sport, it’s all about the dB, baby.
—KEITH SRAKOCIC (2)
A whisper measures about 20 dB. Live rock
bands can clock in at around 115 dB. A jet
engine heard close up registers about 140 dB.
Perillo’s van can blow away even a jet. His
stereo system has registered as high as 164.7
dB in a single burp. A burp is dB drag-racing
lingo for a short pulsation of sound released
from a car’s sound system. Most burps last just
a couple of seconds.
Decibel drag racers don’t sit inside their
vehicles when they burp them. No way. They
close all the doors and trigger a burp with a
remote-control device. If they sat inside the
car when they burped it, the vibrations set
off by the burp could cause severe damage to
their ears, eyes, brain, and other organs. Perillo
has seen flies on his dashboard explode during
Imagine what would happen if that fly were your
eardrum. The eardrum, also called the tympanic
membrane, is a thin layer of tissue in the ear that
vibrates when struck by a sound wave. A sound
wave is a wave of energy that travels through the
air when someone or something makes a noise.
When the tympanic membrane vibrates, it
passes the vibrations to the inner ear. An
extremely loud, sudden noise, such as a nearby
explosion, can perforate, or tear, the
Left: Troy Irving shows
off his sound system.
Below: Bob Perillo’s
van. Perillo cranked
up the sound high
enough to break the
Thirty million people in the United States are
exposed to dangerous levels of noise every day. You
can protect your hearing by following these tips:
● Lower the volume when you wear headphones.
Keep the volume low enough so that a person
next to you cannot hear the sound.
● Plan to wear earplugs when you know you will
be exposed to noise for long periods of time.
Earplugs, which quiet up to 25 dB of sound, can
mean the difference between a dangerous and
a safe noise level. Always wear earplugs when
using power tools, lawn mowers, or leaf
blowers; when riding snowmobiles; or when
riding in loud motorized vehicles.
● Stay well away from the source of loud noise. If
you’re at a concert, for instance, don’t stand or
sit close to the speakers. Sound waves are
strongest near their source.
● Don’t try to drown out unwanted noise with
more noise. Don’t turn up the volume on the car
radio to help drown out traffic noise, for example.
And don’t turn up the TV while vacuuming.
● If you can’t avoid loud noise, try to limit
the time you spend exposed to the noise.
Take frequent breaks in low-noise or
Copyright © by Weekly Reader Corporation · Current Health 2
— A.T. MCPHEE
—ILLUSTRATION: LEIGH HAEGER
Sound waves enter through the outer ear. As they
travel into the auditory canal, the sound waves
vibrate the eardrum. Those vibrations, in turn, move
three tiny bones in the middle ear—the malleus,
incus, and stapes. The bones amplify sound vibrations
so that they can be sensed by the inner ear.
eardrum. When that happens, sound waves
can’t pass to the inner ear. If the damage is
severe enough, permanent deafness can result.
Even if the eardrum isn’t damaged, frequent
exposure to loud noises can still harm hearing.
It can damage sound-sensing cells, called hair
cells, in the inner ear. Each hair cell contains
40 to 100 stiff, hairlike shafts that sense sound
waves. Hair cells transform the sound waves
into nervous system impulses. These impulses
travel to the brain, which uses the signals to
identify the sound.
Damage to the hair cells can prevent them
from picking up sound waves. Continued
exposure to explosive or other loud sounds can
lead to extensive hair cell damage. This can
cause pain, ringing in the ears, and, eventually,
hearing loss, which may be permanent.
Now, back at the speedway, how do those
guys pump up the volume so loud? And more
to the point, why? I asked Troy Irving.
Irving is a soft-spoken factory supervisor
from Augusta, Mich. He has outfitted his
bright yellow 1985 Dodge Caravan with batteries
that feed 32 amplifiers that send audio
signals to nine speakers. He can’t drive the van
on the road—it’s much too heavy—but, man,
can he make it burp!
An amplifier, or amp, is a device that boosts
the level of an audio signal. Small amps, like
those found in cell phones, might produce
about a half watt of power. (A watt is a measure
of electric power.) Irving’s amps pump
out a total of 130,000 watts!
For Irving, it’s all about maximum volume.
He doesn’t want the money. (There is none.) He
doesn’t want the fame. (There’s none of
that either.) “My goal,” he said, “is to have the
loudest car in the world.”
Test your knowledge of hearing loss and its causes.
(See answers in the Teacher’s Guide.)
1. What is one of the earliest symptoms of
A prolonged ear pain
B a constant ringing noise
C trouble hearing in crowds
D heavy bleeding from the inner ear
2. Which of the following statements is true?
A The use of cotton swabs to clean your
inner ears is harmless.
B By the age of 20, even healthy young
adults can no longer hear some of the
sounds that infants can.
C There is no need to use earplugs when
operating a vacuum cleaner.
D Chronic ear infections can cause only
temporary, not permanent, hearing loss.
3. What is a sign that you may be losing
A Everyone tells you that you mumble.
B You friends and family sound as if they
C You don’t know if someone has just said
“fish” or “dish.”
D You don’t know if someone has just said
“male” or “mail.”
4. Which of the following situations is most harmful
to your hearing?
A five minutes at a rock concert
B 20 minutes at a dance club
C 30 minutes of listening to music on
D two hours in a loud factory
Current Health 2 · Copyright © by Weekly Reader Corporation