Noise Damage

Noise is an unwanted sound. It’s ear pollution.

Too much noise for long periods of time (or certain types of noise for short periods of time) can cause loss of hearing.

Excessive noise is a leading cause of hearing loss.

Today many New Zealanders have significant hearing loss. Many more are exposed to noise levels at home and at work that may permanently damage their hearing.

Your hearing is vital for

  • Learning – a lot of information is gained from listening
  • Communicating – through spoken words
  • Safety – many warning systems depend on hearing  

Some people are more sensitive to noise than others but everyone is affected by excessive noise to some degree. This can depend on:

  • Loudness
  • Pitch
  • Length of exposure
  • Surroundings
  • Age
  • Previous ear trouble
  • Distance from source 

The most annoying noise is high-pitched, loud and irregular or on-and-off. But all kinds of excess noise eventually cause hearing damage.  

If you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone less than 60 centimetres (two feet) away, you are in a noisy area and should be wearing a protective device.

How does noise damage your hearing?

Hearing loss caused by noise raises your “hearing threshold” — the degree of loudness at which you first begin to hear.

Temporary threshold shift

  • Industrial workers may not hear sound under 40dBA by the end of day
  • Most of the loss occurs in the first two hours of noise exposure
  • Hearing usually “bounces back” within two hours after exposure to noise stops
  • The loss may become permanent if exposure continues for many months

Permanent threshold shift

  • Usually no physical signs – ears appear normal and there’s no pain or dizziness
  • Early signs may be tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and slight muffling of sound
  • Hearing no longer “bounces back”. Sounds have to be louder in order to be heard
  • Loss starts in high frequencies and may spread to all frequencies if exposure continues

Traumatic hearing loss

  • May be caused by sudden, single exposure to extremely high, loud noise
  • Less common than other types of hearing damage

  

Does noise have other negative effects?

Apart from hearing loss there are many other effects of excessive noise.

Speech interference:  In an extra-noisy environment it’s hard to hear people talk – and that’s a safety hazard in itself.

Annoyance: Unpleasant sounds, particularly sudden and uneven ones, may cause fear, anger and emotional wear and tear.

Inefficiency: Noise may cause fatigue or distract attention from demanding or difficult tasks.

These all add up to good reasons for practising hearing conservation.

Don’t people in noisy environments just get used to the racket? If, after long exposure to excess noise, you stop hearing it -- it’s because you’ve become deaf!

(Source: Oticon)

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