Changes in technology have made the world a noisier place, and exposure to loud noises can damage your hearing over time. This is especially true if you work in an environment with lots of loud machinery. Understanding how the ear works is the first step towards protecting yourself from excessive noise which can damage your ears.
How hearing loss occurs
The human ear is comprised of three areas, and these are the external ear, middle ear and internal ear. The external ear is the only part visible and it is connected to the ear canal. The eardrum sits between the ear canal and the middle ear. The middle ear houses small bones which are responsible for transmitting sound into the internal ear. Once sound reaches the internal ear, the vibrations are transformed into nerve impulses, and the brain will then interpret them.
When the ear is exposed to a noise that is excessively loud, it will damage the nerve endings within the internal ear. If the ear is exposed to the noise for too long, these nerve endings will be completely destroyed. The destruction of these nerve endings will lead to a gradual loss of hearing or a sudden hearing loss if the sound is sufficiently loud (such as an explosion). Once the nerve endings within the ear die, there is no way to restore them. The longer a person is exposed to loud noise, the greater the damage will be.
How to know when a noise is excessive
The noise sensitivity of different people will vary. The elderly tend to be the most sensitive to noise, while children tend to be much less sensitive. However, as a general rule of a thumb, a noise is hazardous to your hearing if you’re at arm’s length from someone and they have to shout so you can hear them. Obviously, if the noise is causing pain in your ears, or you detect a ringing sensation, this is a sign that you need to get out of the area where the noise is emanating, or shut off the source if possible.
Noise level is determined by intensity, and is measured in decibels, as well as pitch and duration. Excessive exposure to loud noise may lead to a condition called tinnitus, or ringing within the ears. In addition to the effects that excessive noise has on the ears, some other warning signs of excessive noise exposure include:
- Increased pulse rate
- High blood pressure
- Increased anxiety and irritation
- An increase in stomach acid
- Increased difficulty concentrating
- Sleep deprivation
How to protect yourself against excessive noise
Those who work in environments which are excessively noisy should wear ear protection. This protection must be capable of reducing the noise while also allowing you to communicate with others. Hearing protection should be worn whenever power tools are used, as well as when you operate farm equipment or firearms. Hearing protection is also important when riding vehicles such as motorcycles. Earplugs and earmuffs are the most common form of hearing protection, but both have their advantages and disadvantages.