Industrial machinery. Heavy construction equipment. Power tools. Aircrafts. Gunfire. Motorcycles. Race tracks. Dental drills. Sporting events. Fireworks. Rock concerts. Marching bands. Yard equipment.
All involve people. All involve loud noise. And, potentially, all contribute to hearing loss.
While a single event – like a firecracker or rock concert – can lead to ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss, repeated exposure to loud noises are more likely to lead to permanent hearing loss.
Hearing loss affects 1 in 10 Americans and is mostly age-related and unpreventable. However, it can also be caused by the cumulative effects of excessive noise exposure, which IS PREVENTABLE.
The workplace often presents significant potential for hearing loss. OSHA offers the following regarding hearing safety in the workplace:
- Approximately 30 million people in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise.
- Noise-related hearing loss is one of the most prevalent work-related health concerns and has been for 25 years.
- Thousands of workers suffer yearly from hearing loss due to workplace noise.
And that’s in addition to the individuals suffering hearing loss from noise encountered outside of work.
How Ears are Damaged
According to Noise & Hearing Protection, “When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the nerve endings in the inner ear. Prolonged exposure to loud noise destroys nerve endings. As the number of nerve endings decreases, so does your hearing. There is no way to restore life to dead nerve endings; the damage is permanent. The longer you are exposed to a loud noise, the more damaging it may be. Also, the closer you are to the source of intense noise, the more damaging it is.”
In other words, ears are damaged over time, and damage depends on amount, length and intensity of exposure to noise.
Identifying Hearing Loss & Its Causes
Because hearing loss is painless and gradual, you might not notice it. So how can you tell?
- You might notice a ringing or other sound in your ear (tinnitus)
- You may have trouble understanding what people say.
- People may seem to be mumbling, especially when surrounded by other noise.
- Speech or music sounds muffled when you leave a noisy situation but fairly clear the next morning.
Protect Your Hearing
Obviously, noise cannot be completely eliminated. But, there are some simple approaches to reduce the risk of cumulative hearing loss.
- Wear earplugs and/or earmuffs. Wear hearing protection when working in an excessively noisy environment, when using power tools and lawn equipment, when firing a gun, and when riding a motorcycle or snowmobile.
- Be sure to choose the right kind of hearing protection.Combating Common Objections to Hearing Protection wear says that “the right kind of hearing protection brings noise levels to a point where they won’t cause damage but necessary sounds like conversations can still be heard.”
- Wear hearing protection consistently. Finding the right size and type of gear is important to increase the chance consistency.
- Turn down the sound. Decrease volume when possible (radio, television, etc.).
- Give your ears a break. If you’ve just vacuumed, wait a while before mowing the lawn.
- Enjoy silence. Give your ears regular breaks not just from loud noise but from any significant noise. Noise can not only affect your hearing; Noise and Hearing Protection notes that it can have a significant impact on your overall health too.
- Increase your awareness of noise exposure. Think about how much noise enters your day, and reduce its affects by incorporating the above tips.
How do you know if a noise is too loud? Common sense mostly, but use your arms if you’re not sure. If someone is standing at arm’s length away and you have to shout to make yourself heard, then the noise around you is probably damaging your ears.
Healthy Hearing explains that protecting yourself from hearing loss needs the same approach as protecting your skin from sun damage. They say to “remember, hearing loss is based on the cumulative effect of loud noise throughout a lifetime so, like wearing sunscreen and staying in the shade, wear ear plugs when doing yard work or whenever you know you’re going to be exposed to the roar of a riding mower for more than a few minutes.”