For most people who live until the golden years of older age, hearing loss is an inevitable process. After a lifetime of sound entering the ears without the ability to “blink” or close them from noise, you can imagine the toll that sound can take. Although the ears are remarkably able to discern the subtlest differences between sounds, such as the slight differences of inflection, accent, or pronunciation in words, they are also able to withstand harsh noises with amazing resilience.
However, there is a limit to the staying power of the ears against the constant sonic assault of life. As the body and the ears age, the tiny hairs that sense quiet or high-frequency sounds may be damaged by exposure to sound. When these hairs are damaged, they are no longer able to detect differences in sound pressure and then to send that information along to the brain. This process of hearing loss is quite common, and most older people will experience some form of hearing loss later in life.
Noise Exposure & Hearing Loss
In addition to the common form of hearing loss associated with the natural process of aging, some types of noise exposure are beyond the ability of the ears to handle. Two specific types of noise exposure can be damaging. The first exposure would be a damaging and extremely loud noise event, such as an explosion or car crash. When that extreme level of sound enters the ears all at once, the ears can be irreversibly damaged. Though some people experience temporary hearing loss or tinnitus after an extremely loud sound event, some will suffer the damage permanently.
The other major cause of noise-related hearing loss is a repeated and longer-duration exposure to relatively loud sound. When the ears receive sound impulses at too high a level of pressure for too long, they can become gradually damaged by that exposure. Loud workplaces such as industrial sites, music clubs, or even restaurants can have this effect. Those who work in very loud environments should have protections put in place by their employers, including the use of specialized hearing protection and limits to the amount of time spent in the noisy environment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets up guidelines for employers to help them understand the right amount of sound exposure for employees facing different levels of noise. These noise levels should be regularly texted with decibel meters in the work place, and workers are required by law to have regular hearing tests to monitor the effects that a noisy workplace or industrial site might be causing.
In addition to repeated, long-duration exposure to noise in the workplace, another source of noise might be off your radar: leisure or recreational noise. Those who love to go to sporting events, concerts, or dance clubs will be aware of the effect these events can have on the ears, sometimes leaving them ringing in the hours after the event. However isolated events tend to be less dangerous than constant exposure to loud sounds through a commonplace technological device: headphones. Whether over-the-ear headphones or earbuds, these units can send deafeningly loud sounds into the ears for sustained periods of time. With constant use, particularly in already loud environments such as trains or other transportation, the ears may be incurring a very loud level of sound for far too long.
Protecting Your Hearing
In order to protect yourself from these kinds of noise exposure, it is important to monitor the volume of sound in your everyday life. Loud sounds should only be encountered for limited times, and the following chart can help you understand the right amounts.
- 85 dB for eight hours
- 88 dB for four hours
- 91 dB for two hours
For reference, a sound at the level of 85 decibels might be a diesel truck at 40 miles per hour, a food blender might be 88 decibels, and a motorcycle 25 feet away, might sound like 91 decibels. As you can tell, it is quite important to monitor your noise level to make sure you are not being exposed to very loud sounds unnecessarily. Earbuds at maximum volume can reach volumes up to 110 decibels, so be sure to limit exposure as much as possible.
South Shore Hearing Center
If you’ve been exposed to loud noise and are concerned about your hearing, consider taking a hearing test. At South Shore Hearing Center, we provide comprehensive hearing health services, from tests to hearing aid fittings to custom hearing protection. Contact us today to learn more.