Safety Tip of the Week: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Person holding hand to ear to reflect attempt to hear information in a noisy environment

This week Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, provides information about noise-induced hearing loss.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

How loud is too loud?

Loud noise can be very damaging to your hearing. Both the level of noise and the length of time you listen to the noise can put you at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Noise levels are measured in decibels, or dB for short. The higher the decibel level, the louder the noise. The hearing system can be injured not only by a loud blast or explosion but also by prolonged exposure to high noise levels.

How can I tell if I am listening to dangerous noise levels?

  • You must raise your voice to be heard.
  • You can’t hear someone 3 feet away from you.
  • Speech around you sounds muffled or dull after you leave the noisy area.
  • You have pain or ringing in your ears after exposure to noise.

How can loud noise damage hearing?

One of the most common negative effects of loud noise on hearing is a permanent hearing loss. This happens over time in the following way:

  • Loud sounds are collected by the ear as sound waves. The sound waves travel down the ear canal to the eardrum with enough force to disrupt the delicate hearing system.
  • The loud sound passes through the middle ear and travels to the inner ear, also known as the cochlea. The tiny hair cells lining this fluid-filled chamber can be damaged as the loud sound reaches the inner ear.
  • Only healthy hair cells can send electrical impulses to the brain. It is in the brain that the sound is understood and interpreted. Hair cells damaged by loud sound cannot send the impulse to the brain for interpretation.
  • Intense brief noises, like a firecracker or an explosion, can damage hair cells, as can continuous and/or repeated exposure to high levels of noise.
  • Once the hair cells are damaged, there is no current treatment to repair them.
  • How else can loud noise be harmful?
  • Loud noise can increase fatigue and cause irritability. Noisy classrooms can make it harder for teachers to teach and children to learn. Noisy backgrounds can make understanding conversation harder.

There are three things you can do to protect your hearing from damaging noises: walk away, turn down the volume and protect your ears.

Learn more about how to protect your hearing and about Decibel Exposure Time Guidelines