Topic 5: How long is too long when it comes to loud noises?
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More than one in every three Australians has sustained hearing loss from excessive noise.
Every day we’re exposed to noise, whether it’s from the TV or radio, traffic in the street or noisy shopping centres. While most of these noise levels are safe, prolonged exposure at a high decibel can damage the inner ear and cause permanent hearing loss.
But there are some simple precautions you can take to reduce your chances of hearing loss.
What’s a safe noise level?
Permanent hearing loss occurs when the inner ear is damaged by loud noise or wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells of the cochlea. The cochlea sends sound signals to the brain and when its hairs or nerves are damaged, electrical signals aren’t transmitted the same way, causing hearing loss.
This damage can be done to your inner ear without the noises having been loud enough to cause you physical pain. Long periods of listening to loud music or being surrounded by machinery can cause hearing loss, just as can short bursts of loud sound.
So, how loud is too loud? As a rule of thumb, noise is loud enough to be bad for your inner ear when you must raise your voice to be heard over the top of it.
Many of the common activities we are exposed to everyday are loud enough to cause irreversible damage within a matter of minutes, as these guidelines set out by Australian Hearing show.
How can I tell my hearing’s damaged?
Struggling to hear people when they’re speaking to you in a loud place, or high-pitched tones sounding muffled, are common signs of hearing loss.
Many people also find themselves increasing the volume on the radio or television to a point where other people complain it’s too loud – another sign your hearing may be damaged. Talking on the phone can also become difficult and some people find themselves relaying on lip reading to catch words they can’t hear.
What are the other big hearing-loss risks?
Aside from prolonged exposure to loud noise or a one-off burst of extremely loud sound, there are other issues that can affect our hearing:
A build-up of earwax can block the ear canal and cause temporary hearing loss. This can be fixed with earwax removal
A ruptured eardrum, caused by a loud burst of noise, sudden changes in pressure, poking the eardrum with an object or infection, can cause permanent hearing loss
Ageing can cause the inner ear to naturally deteriorate over time
Tinnitus is a form of hearing loss, which can be temporary or permanent, caused by exposure to loud noises. Typical symptoms include a ringing, buzzing or roaring sound in the ears
What are the best ways to preserve my hearing?
Simple precautions can reduce your chances of hearing loss. These include:
If using headphones, make sure noise levels are set to ‘moderate’
If you’re consistently exposed to loud machinery, ensure you wearing ear plugs or ear muffs
If you’re at a noisy event such as a concert or party, take a five-minute break in a quieter area every hour