Can Noisy Work Environments Cause Hearing Loss?

Construction Worker Being Exposed to Loud Noises

 

Many of us spend 40+ hours a week at our jobs, and while working long, hard hours can be great for our wallets, it’s not always great for our bodies. In fact, those who spend 8 hours a day at their desk job may be distressed to learn that daily exercise can’t even combat the negative effects of sitting for extended periods of time.

While those with jobs that keep them more physically active, like construction work, may not have to worry about the negative effects of sitting, they are not entirely in the clear from health issues resulting from their work environment. One particular health concern that many people in such industries may face is noise-induced hearing loss.

Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when a person is exposed to damaging sound levels for extended periods of time. If you work in an industry that regularly exposes you to loud noises, and you’ve had trouble hearing lately, you may benefit from learning more about this hearing loss, how to prevent it, and what you can do if you have it.

Noise-induced Hearing Loss and Its Causes

As mentioned, noise-induced hearing loss occurs from exposure to loud noises. But how exactly do high sound levels damage our hearing?

Our ears contain hair cells, or sensory receptors inside the cochlea (or inner ear) that allow us to perceive sound. When our ears are exposed to noises over a certain level, those hair cells can die. With fewer hair cells, our ears have fewer ways to receive sound, which makes it more difficult for us to hear, and since dead hair cells are irreparable, noise-induced hearing loss is often permanent.

So, this begs the question: How loud is too loud?

As mentioned, noise-induced hearing loss occurs when we hear noises above a certain level. Since we measure loudness by decibels (dB), you can determine what sounds can cause this type of hearing loss by identifying how many decibels (dB) a sound is.

With this in mind, according to the Center for Disease Control, noise-induced hearing loss occurs when we are exposed to sounds measuring 85 dB or higher. For example, if you listen to a sound that’s 85 dB for more than 8 hours, you may experience hearing loss. Likewise, the higher the decibel reading, the shorter the length of time the sound will require to potentially cause hearing loss.

To put this in perspective, a soft whisper reads at about 30 dB, while a normal conversation occurs at around 60 dB. Under 85 dB, these sound levels are unlikely to cause hearing loss. In contrast, some sounds above 85 dB that may cause hearing loss include gas-powered lawn-mowers (90 dB), hand drills (98 dB), power saws (110 dB), or shotguns (165 dB).

There is a point, however, at which sounds are so loud that they require hardly any time at all to cause hearing loss. Even with hearing protection, it is advised to avoid sound levels above 140 dB, as sounds levels of 140 dB or higher can result in immediate damage to one’s hearing.

Protect Your Hearing: Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Even if you suspect that you already have noise-induced hearing loss, it’s invaluable to protect the hearing that you have left. Especially if you are employed in an industry that frequently exposes you to damaging sound levels, you will benefit from becoming informed on how to prevent loud noises from negatively affecting your hearing health.

Follow these two simple steps to start protecting your hearing now:

1. Identify damaging sound levels and know your limits.

The first step to protecting your hearing is learning to identify the sounds that can damage your hearing and understanding the length of time it requires for those sounds to have a negative effect. That way, you’ll be able to identify what sounds you should avoid altogether or keep to a limit.

As mentioned, sounds above 85 dB are known to cause hearing loss. You won’t necessarily need to know the exact dB of a sound. Instead, use the chart below to familiarize yourself with damaging sound levels and the maximum amount of time you can safely be exposed to those sounds.

Loudness (dB)

Maximum Exposure

Examples

85

8 hours

City Traffic (inside car) (85 dB)

88

4 hours

Train Whistle at 500’

(90 dB)

91

2 hours

94

1 hour

Jackhammer at 50’

(95 dB)

97

30 minutes

100

15 minutes

Motorcycle (100 dB)

112

1 minute

Power saw at 3’ (110 dB)

140

0 (no exposure)

Jet engine at 100’

(140 dB)

Table Inspired by NoiseHelp.com & GCAudio.com

2. Always wear hearing protection on the job.

The ideal hearing protection for you depends on the field in which you work. For example, if you are in the music industry, wearing the appropriate in-ear monitors during live performances will help. Conversely, if you are in construction, noise-canceling headphones may be a more suitable choice.

In order to select the appropriate hearing protection for your career, you may benefit from doing some research. However, if you work in the United States, don’t be too quick to pull out your wallet and pay for them yourself. U.S. law requires your employer to provide you with hearing protection if your working environment exposes you to damaging noise levels.

For instance, you are a construction worker and regularly exposed to sound levels above 85 dB, your employer should provide the noise-canceling headphones you need, if not compensate you for their cost.

You can learn more about the laws regarding occupational noise exposure by visiting the U.S. Department of Labor's website. You can also find out more about workplace safety by visiting the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's website.

Addressing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Unfortunately, most people fail to notice any symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss until permanent damage has already occurred. As we addressed, once noise-induced hearing loss has occurred, the damage that has been done cannot be reversed.

If you suspect that you have noise-induced hearing loss, there are several symptoms that you can look for: tinnitus (ringing/buzzing in the ears), speech sounding muffled, or feeling as if you have cotton balls in your ears.

Do these symptoms sound familiar? If so, we recommend visiting your local ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor to get a hearing test. After that, if your hearing test confirms that you have hearing loss, you may benefit from wearing hearing aids.

At Advanced Affordable Hearing, our mission is to help you hear better at a price you can afford. To start your journey to hearing better now, visit our Online Hearing Check, or give us a call at , to get a general sense of your hearing loss level today.

If you have any further questions, contact us.   


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