Recently we went to see a rock gig and it was loud; I mean making your teeth vibrate loud! The gig was great and what was encouraging to see was so many people wearing ear plugs. With 5% of the UK population experiencing persistent tinnitus and approximately 15,000 people suffering from work related hearing loss in the past 12 months it is great to see people taking steps to prevent, what is often permanent, damage to their hearing.
What is tinnitus and noise induced hearing loss?
Tinnitus is not specifically an illness in its own right, it is a symptom that can be relate to non-hearing related medical conditions.
People suffering from tinnitus will hear ringing, whistling, hissing, buzzing or humming when there is no obvious source of the sound.
Most people get the occasional ringing in the ears, sometimes for no clear reason and other times if you have been around loud sounds.
The hair cells in your cochlea can be damaged by loud noises which can result in loss of hearing at certain frequencies, this is called noise induced hearing loss. This can be permanent or temporary, even temporary hearing loss should be treated as a warning as further damage may lead to permanent noise induced hearing loss.
So how do you know if something is too loud?
We don’t all carry around noise monitors (although you can get apps for that!) so there are some simple ways to identify if an environment may be ‘too loud’.
Do you have a ringing or buzzing in your ears after you have been around the noise? This would indicate that the noise is causing some damage, even if only temporary.
Do you have to shout to be heard by someone a metre away? This would suggest that the background noise has the potential to damage your hearing. If you have to speak directly into their ear to be heard then the noise is very loud and more likely to cause damage to your hearing.
Do you find your ability to hear is reduced after being around loud noise? Your hearing is probably damaged, this might be temporary but continued exposure could lead to permanent damage.
And finally one of the best ways to identify if something is too loud is to use….common sense! If a sound is making you feel uncomfortable, gives you a head or causes you pain then move away from the noise and the situation.
You can help reduce the risk of damage to your ears caused by noise with some simple steps.
Get out of there! The best solution to reduce the risk of noise related damage is to remove yourself from the noise however we know that is not always practical and we are definitely not suggesting avoid fun things such as concerts and fairgrounds!
Where possible take frequent breaks from the loud noise, this helps reduce the effects of the noise slightly and will make you feel more comfortable overall.
If you are going to be in a noisy environment then wear hearing protection, these should be from a reputable supplier and be suitable for the noise that you are being exposed to. This can include disposable ear plugs, specially moulded ear plugs and ear defenders. Action on Hearing Loss (formally RNID) has a selection of ear plugs to suit different environments http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/shop/hearing-protection/ear-plugs.aspx
In a work environment advise your health and safety representative or HR department if you feel that you are being exposed to loud noise that could impact on your hearing in anyway. If you are issued hearing protection through your employer then you must wear it correctly, contrary to popular belief ear plugs do not work when they are in your pockets!
Follow the 60/60 rule in relation to wearing headphone or earbuds to listen to music, this means don’t turn your volume up past 60% and limit yourself to using them for no more than 60 minutes per day. If you use headphones for longer periods of time then consider purchasing some noise cancelling headphones.
Surely this doesn’t affect you?
Sadly at various points I have had issues with my hearing for medical reasons, luckily all temporary, which makes me conscious of the effects of loud noises on my health. Working in music, as I did for 8 years, it was hard to avoid but by taking simple steps and having regular hearing tests I am confident that I reduced the impact as much as possible however I am far from perfect! I love going to concerts, listening to music loudly at home and in the car however watching people happily put in their earplugs at the recent event shows that you can enjoy all these things whilst taking sensible steps to ensure that you can continue to enjoy them for years to come.
If you have any concerns about your hearing then see your GP or get your hearing checked at one of your local hearing test centre.
What can employers do to help reduce the risk of noise induced hearing loss?
Employers have a duty to care to employees to manage the risks to their health and welfare within the workplace, this includes noise.
Start with a noise risk assessment, depending on your work environment this might require the use of noise monitoring equipment. Implement control measures such as task rotation, health surveillance, sound proofing and PPE. Ensure these are checked regularly and evaluated for effectiveness. Educate employees on the risks of noise on their health and what steps they can do themselves to reduce the risk of hearing loss.
Noise does not just affect employees hearing, it can also contribute to stress within the workplace. Consider the impact of noise on your employees stress and mental well being, talk to them about how noises within the workplace affects them.
For more information on how you can assess and manage noise in your workplace call the team at Harrier on 01332 460703