The occurrence of noise induced hearing loss is on the increase in the Western world, including Australia.  This increase is generally occurring from exposure to long periods of loud noises, and in some instances short loud noises such as an explosion.  While there are treatment options available, prevention is better than cure.  In order to prevent noise induced hearing loss, it must first be understood how it actually occurs.

How the human ear works

Every day we experience a large range of sounds via sound waves through our ears.  The Middle Ear amplifies the sound and hairs in the inner ear convert the sound waves into electrical signals so that our brains can understand what it is that we are hearing.  All pretty amazing when you think about it.

How does noise induced hearing loss occur?

While most noises we hear throughout the day are at safe levels, if we are exposed to an exceptionally loud sound (such as standing next to fireworks when they go off) or we are exposed to a loud sound for a prolonged period of time (for example working in a mechanical shop) then we can damage the hairs that convert sound in our inner ear.  This causes noise induced hearing loss.

Tips to avoid hearing damage in the workplace

First of all, it is necessary to understand what is meant by the term ‘too loud’. Any noise from 85 dB up can cause hearing loss. To put this figure into perspective, a lawn mower is between 85 and 90 dB. The louder the noise is,  the more quickly the hearing loss will occur. So follow these steps to protect your hearing.

  • Take note of how long you have been exposed to loud noise and try and have a break of 15 minutes or so to give your ears a rest.
  • Avoid noisy situations. If you have to  raise your voice to be heard then it is likely you are in a situation that is hazardous for your hearing.
  • If you can’t avoid a noisy situation, protect your hearing with either foam ear plugs or head phones.
  • If you regularly attend concerts, it may be worth investing in some custom fit musician ear plugs. Always avoid standing directly in front of speakers or amplifiers.
  • Have your hearing tested every two years particularly if you have noticed a change in your hearing. Your clinician will be able to give you further advice about protecting your hearing. 

When does noise induced hearing loss occur?

There are several ways that noise induced hearing loss can occur:

  • Prolonged exposure to noise:  If you are exposed to noise about 85 decibels for a prolonged period of time, then you can start damaging your hearing.
  • Short bursts of sounds:  Sounds above 120 decibels in short bursts can also cause hearing damage.

What are the symptoms?

Immediately after exposure to loud noise you may hear a ringing in your ears and have trouble hearing other people talk.  The length of time this lasts depends on how loud the noise you were exposed to was, and the length of period exposed.  Temporary hearing loss can also occur and for between 16 and 48 hours after an exposure to loud noise (eg., a rock concert).   Temporary hearing loss generally doesn’t have any long term effects.

The longer term symptoms of noise induced hearing loss can be difficult to diagnose at first.  The person may not notice slight changes in their hearing until it reaches a level that is unacceptable to them.  It is for this reason that regular hearing checks are needed. 

What are the treatment options?

As a first step you should make an appointment with a hearing centre.  After your assessment your audiologist will be able to discuss possible treatment options such as avoiding prolonged exposure to loud or the use of hearing aids.  Hearing aids can be very effective for noise induced hearing loss.

Noise induced hearing loss is a condition that is increasing in society.  As cities develop there are more and more opportunities for loud noises, and more chances of being exposed to loud noises for a prolonged period of time.  Both of these can cause noise induced hearing loss.

If you are experiencing noise induced hearing loss – or think you are – then it is imperative that you make an appointment to visit an audiologist to test your hearing today.  The sooner you address the problem the more opportunities you will have to limit the damage and improve your hearing.

BIO – Tanya Wilson

Tanya has over 7 years’ experience working in the hearing healthcare sector and writes hearing health care articles for Connect HearingAustralia.

Tanya’s hearing expertise enables her to focus on a range of hearing topics, including tackling common hearing issues, treatment options and new hearing technology.