Industrial machinery. Heavy construction equipment. Power tools. Aircrafts. Gunfire. Motorcycles. Racetracks. 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.
A single event like a firecracker or rock concert can lead to temporary ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss. Repeated exposure to loud noises, however, is likely to lead to permanent hearing loss.
Hearing loss affects 1 in 10 Americans and is often age-related and unpreventable. However, it is also often caused by the cumulative effects of excessive noise exposure, and this type of hearing loss is preventable.
Hearing Loss Statistics
The workplace presents significant potential for hearing loss. OSHA offers the following statistics 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
“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.” (Noise & Hearing Protection)
In other words, ears are damaged over time, and damage depends on amount, length and intensity of exposure to noise. And, most significantly, the hearing loss is permanent.
Identifying Hearing Loss & Its Causes
Because hearing loss is painless and gradual, it often goes unnoticed until it is impossible to ignore. Fortunately, there are some warning signs.
- A ringing or other sound in the ear (tinnitus).
- Trouble understanding what people say.
- People seem to be mumbling, especially when surrounded by other noise.
- Speech or music sounds muffled after leaving a noisy situation but fairly clear the next morning.
Reduce the Risk of Hearing Loss
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. Learn how to Prevent Hearing Damage with Proper Ear Protection.
“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.” (Combating Common Objections to Hearing Protection)
- Wear hearing protection consistently. Finding the right size and type of gear is important to increase the chances of consistently wearing hearing protection.
- Turn down the sound. Decrease volume when possible (radio, television, etc.).
- Give 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 not only affects hearing. It can have a significant impact on overall health too (Noise and Hearing Protection).
How To know if A Noise is Too Loud
A good visual is the arm test. If someone is standing at arm’s length away and shouting is needed for communication, then the surrounding noise is probably damaging to ears.
Preventing hearing loss needs the same approach as protecting skin from sun damage.
“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.” (Healthy Hearing)