We all live in a noisy world. While we may not always be aware of it, our constant exposure to loud noises, whether that is from our jobs, large gatherings, car exhausts, or listening to music through earbuds, can affect our ears.
But we only have one set of ears, so what can we do to protect our ears and prevent hearing loss from loud noise?
What Is Hearing Loss?
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) approximately 15% of adults report at least some trouble with their hearing. But how much of our hearing problems come from exposure to loud noise?
How Can Loud Noise Damage The Ear?
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is classified as permanent damage to the cells within the ears called Stereocilia. These cells are made of tiny hairs which impact our hearing and balance by sending electrical signals to the brain to alert it to sounds. These hairs are not replaceable and won’t regrow once they have been damaged, which can happen by exposure to loud, intense noises like gunshots, fireworks, and drilling. When these hairs become damaged by loud noises, NIHL occurs.
The Impact Loud Noises Can Have On Our Health
Aside from just being harmful to ears, loud noise exposure can also affect other areas of our lives without us necessarily being aware. Loud noises can cause issues such as:
- Elevated Blood Pressure
- Increased Heart Rate
- Depression Due To Hearing Loss
What Are The Signs Of Hearing Loss?
Because hearing loss from sustained exposure to loud noises can happen over a longer period of time, it can sometimes be difficult to notice when you experience symptoms of hearing loss.
Actually, many of us simply assume that any symptoms of hearing loss that we do pick up on are just signs of us getting older. But what we don’t realise is that some symptoms are not caused by the normal ageing process, but are linked to sustained damage to the ear. But what are these symptoms and how are they different from hearing loss caused by again?
Hearing Loss Symptoms
Some of the symptoms and signs of hearing loss caused by damage include:
- You may feel that people are speaking much more quietly than usual and it may seem like they are mumbling when speaking to you
- The degree of hearing loss is the same in both ears and is apparent when either ear is covered to test if the hearing ability is mirrored in both ears
- Lower pitched sounds become much easier to hear than higher pitched sounds
- The sounds “sh”, “s”, “th” and “f” become more difficult to hear and differentiate, and words which are similar, such as “sell” and “shell” may become difficult to distinguish
- You are able to hear sounds, for example noise at a party, but aren’t able to distinguish specifics about the sounds, such as what is being said
- Pain in the ears following exposure to loud noises, for example, pain after attending a musical festival
- Experiencing tinnitus in the ear, which presents itself either as a ringing, whooshing, buzzing or roaring sound within the ear
- Other people have commented that you seem to be speaking much more loudly than usual, even when there is minimal background noise
The Importance Of Early Detection
If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing any of these hearing loss symptoms, it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as possible. Ignoring the signs and symptoms will unfortunately only exacerbate the problem and can sometimes accelerate hearing loss.
Accessing medical advice as quickly as possible will give you the best options for managing your symptoms and preventing any further damage. While damage to the ear and subsequent hearing loss is usually permanent, there are fantastic technological advances in devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants. They can help you to experience minimal impact on your daily lives and can continue to live life as normal.
Who Is At A Higher Risk Of Hearing Loss?
For many years, hearing loss was always assumed to be an affliction of the elderly or those who work in high volume industries, such as construction sites and nightclubs. However, it’s becoming increasingly common for teenagers and young adults to be affected by damage to the ear and the hearing loss which follows, due to the use of earbuds which sit directly in the ear canal.
Although the sound and bass quality of the ever-evolving earbuds of today can be exceptional, the noise level produced by these earbuds are highly damaging. Also, the use of earbuds may actually cause us to increase the volume of other technology that we use, like speakers, car radios, and TVs. By using our earbuds and earphones, we seem to desensitise our ears to the high volume being produced. So when we remove the earbud and decide to watch a movie for example, we might find ourselves struggling to hear the TV so we increase the volume, which exacerbates the problem.
Common Causes Of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
More often than not, we are exposed to loud noises as we go about our daily lives. For example, we might have the loud and continuous sounds of a busy workplace, or we might have hobbies, such as shooting, attending concerts, listening to music in earbuds, and riding motorcycles, that can contribute to ear damage. Even going to see a movie these days can also have a detrimental effect on our hearing.
Noise Levels Of Everyday Items
Understanding the noise levels of everyday items can help us all to make the best choices for our ears and our health. You can do this by measuring and monitoring the decibel of noises that you are exposed to.
Generally, any sound that is under 80 decibels is considered safe. Any sound over this can damage your hearing. The human body can actually only comfortably tolerate decibels of 120 before experiencing significant discomfort. Anything over 150 decibels can cause immediate and irreversible hearing loss.
Here are the decibel level of the sounds that we hear everyday:
- 20-30 Decibels: Leaves rustling or light rainfall
- 50 Decibels: A normal conversation
- 70 Decibels: A household vacuum cleaner
- 80-90 Decibels: Heavy city traffic
- 90 Decibels: Construction machinery (drills, jackhammers, and powertools)
- 100 Decibels: A motorbike revving
- 110 Decibels: A music festival
- 120 Decibels: Emergency service sirens, such as an ambulance
- 140 Decibels: A jet plane taking off
- 150 Decibels: fireworks
- 180 Decibels: Rocket Launch
From this decibel scale, we can see activities that some of us do everyday are much louder than we might realise. For example, shooting with a rifle doesn’t have a significant decibel difference when compared with a rocket being launched into space, which has a decibel level of around 180 decibels. So, although rifle shooting is often short and quick bursts of noise, over time this could potentially cause roughly the same amount of damage as being next to a rocket being launched without the correct prevention measures.
How To Prevent Ear Damage From Loud Noises
As noise-induced hearing loss is usually permanent, it’s important to take precautions to protect the ears before any damage is done.
These preventative measures don’t mean that you have to stop your hobby or work in a quieter place, or stop listening to music. It is still possible to enjoy all of your usual activities with minimal interruption.
- Wear Ear Muffs: As ear muffs create a seal around the ear, they are great at being able to reduce the decibels(dB) that a person is exposed to and can often reduce this noise by up to 30dB. This is particularly useful when attending things such as music festivals, where the decibel level will usually reach around 110dB on average.
- Wear Earplugs: If earmuffs aren’t available or practical within certain settings, opting for earplugs are the next best option. When placed in the ear canal, earplugs can reduce the decibel level by the same amount as ear muffs. You can also find noise-reducing ear plugs like our Loop Quiet Ear Plugs, which reduce noise by 27 decibels.
Turn The Music Down: While it can be so easy to get carried away when enjoying a favourite song or watching a movie using earphones, it’s important to be aware that continuous exposure to moderately loud music can be just as harmful as exposure to a short, sharp noise which can damage the eardrum immediately. Many audio devices now have a feature allowing you to limit your volume, reducing your ability to play music too loud for your ears.
What To Do If You Are Concerned
You should take your ear health just as seriously as the health of the rest of your body. We only have one pair of ears and once they are damaged, they can’t be repaired.
Using noise cancelling and noise reducing products, like Loop Ear Plugs, can help to reduce your overall exposure to loud and potentially damaging noises. However, while the above guidance should provide some insight into preventing hearing loss, you should contact your GP or qualified health professional for personal advice if you experience any of the symptoms or signs of hearing loss.