Preventing Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is a permanent hearing loss usually caused by long-term exposure to loud noises. It can also happen in a short time after you are exposed to loud noise, like a gunshot or explosion. The more noise you are about, the more you risk hearing loss.

It is a sensorineural hearing loss, which means it affects the inner ear. This also means it cannot be medically treated. As such, we should do all we can to protect ourselves from noise-induced hearing loss.

Recognizing the Signs of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

The first signs of a noise-induced hearing loss are the inability to understand speech in a crowd or an area with background sounds. If the damage continues, the hearing declines further, and it becomes difficult to follow conversations even in quiet areas.

So how much is too much noise? Well, you know that hollow ringing sound following a concert? That is an indication that some damage to the ear hair cells has already occurred.

Prolonged exposure to more than 85 decibels of noise (equivalent to the sound of a running lawn mower) for more than 8 hours per day causes damage to our hearing. Explosive sounds such as fireworks, on the other hand, are louder than 140 decibels and will cause hearing damage almost instantaneously.

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What Can You Do To Prevent Hearing Loss Caused By Noise?

Loud music from earphones and headphones is one of the greatest dangers to your hearing. Even if you turn your volume down a little, your risk of hearing damage can be lowered substantially. To help avoid hearing damage:

  • Use noise-canceling earphones or headphones.
  • Turn the volume up enough to listen comfortably to your music, but not any higher than that.
  • Do not listen to music at more than 60% of the maximum volume – some devices have settings to limit the volume automatically.
  • Refrain from using your earphones or headphones for more than an hour at a time; take a break every hour for at least 5 minutes.

Avoid loud events

The trick to preventing noise-induced hearing loss is to avoid loud noise as much as possible. You can get smartphone applications that measure noise levels. To protect your hearing from loud events ( e.g., nightclubs, concerts or sports):

  • Stay away from loud noise sources (such as loudspeakers)
  • Try to take a noise break every 15 minutes.
  • Give your listening about 18 hours to recover from loud noise after exposure.
  • Consider wearing earplugs – you can buy reusable earplugs for musicians that decrease but do not muffle the music.

Take precautions at work

If the noise at work reaches more than 85dB over eight hours, your employer is required by law to make changes to reduce your loud noise exposure by:

  • Switching to quieter equipment, if possible
  • Making sure that you are not exposed to long periods of loud noise
  • Protecting your hearing with earmuffs or earplugs
  • Making sure you wear any hearing protection

Talk to your HR department or management if you are exposed to loud noises through your work.

Test your hearing

If you are concerned about your hearing abilities, it is important to take a hearing test as soon as possible. The earlier hearing loss is detected and treated, the sooner you can experience the benefits of healthy hearing.

You may also want to have regular hearing checks (once a year, say) when you are at increased risk of noise-induced hearing loss – if, for example, you are a musician or are working in noisy environments.