You’re rushing through the street and you pass a loud construction site. You notice that the workers are all wearing earmuffs – that’s because hearing protection is essential for those workers in order to avoid hearing loss or tinnitus.
There are two things that most commonly cause hearing loss: ageing and noise. Chances are that you won’t find the fountain of youth anytime soon, so there’s not much you can do about ageing (but when you do start to lose your hearing because of ageing, it’s a good idea to see a hearing care professional to improve your hearing). Noise, however – that’s where you can actually do something to avoid damaging your hearing.
Noise affects your hearing – but where’s the limit?
Every day you’re exposed to sound that qualifies as noise – even if you don’t really notice it. At school or work, in traffic, mowing your lawn – or even hearing the neighbour’s dog barking – that could be noise. It all depends on the volume, but that’s not so easy to predict.
A normal conversation is at 60 dB on average. A jet plane at take-off can reach as high as 140 dB. The trouble is when the sound that’s too loud goes on for a long time or happens repeatedly for a long time.
Many countries have enacted regulations about the noise limits that workers are allowed to be exposed to during a working day – to protect workers from getting any kind of hearing reduction or impairment because of the work environment. Usually the noise level cannot exceed 85 dB.
If you don’t work in a noisy environment, situations you should pay special attention to include going to concerts, watching fireworks that are close by, flying, or listening to music or podcasts with earphones at too high a volume.
What happens when noise affects my hearing?
The ear is a complex organ, full of important sensory cells that help us hear and help the brain interpret sound. If the sensory cells experience the sound as too loud, they may be damaged – or simply die. The problem is that there’s no way to revive them. And that may mean permanent hearing damage.
DID YOU KNOW?
Even the slightest, unnoticeable rise in decibels can have a huge effect on your hearing. A three-decibel rise in volume could double the risk of damage to your ears.
How do I protect my hearing?
Some of the time you can’t be prepared for noise – traffic or road work may surprise you. Other times, you’ll know that you’re going to take in a lot of noise. Like when you’re planning to go to a concert, getting ready for those New Year’s fireworks or going to mow the lawn. These are the times when you should take good care to protect your hearing.
Hearing protection comes in different forms, but, most of the time, simple earplugs will keep the damaging noise at bay. If your ears are sensitive to earplugs, you could try noise-cancelling headphones or earmuffs. They’re bigger, but they are also pretty comfortable. If possible, you should also consider taking breaks from all the action and choosing seats (in planes or at concerts) that are not too close to the noise.