Types and causes of hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss

Prolonged and repeated exposure to loud noise – whether at work or when listening to loud music – can damage your hearing.

The World Health Organisation (external link, opens new window)  says that noise exposure is the biggest cause of permanent hearing damage around the world – and it’s avoidable.

This is a short guide. You can download our Noise exposure factsheet for more information.

Noise at work

Two men working on a building site wearing ear guards.Employers are obliged to take action to protect your hearing under the 'Noise at work' regulations, which protect you if you are in a noisy job.

If you work in a noisy environment – such as construction, manufacturing or a music venue – your employer should make sure that you have hearing protection. For more about noise at work in the music and entertainment industry, see the Sound Advice website(external link, opens new window).

If noise exposure reaches 80 decibels (dB) employers are legally bound to start taking action. For more information about who is responsible for upholding this standard, visit the Health and Safety Executive(external link, opens new window) website.

Members of the armed forces are at particular risk of damage to their ears: peak exposure levels from jet engines and weapons systems can reach over 140dB. We have worked with the Defence Hearing Working Group(external link, opens new window) ways to mitigate risk for servicemen and women. This includes developing hearing protection that doesn’t interfere with the ability to hear orders or warnings, or to detect enemy movement. Read more from this PDF file (115KB) on the Ministry of Defence website(external link, opens new window).

Loud music

We can all subject our ears to potentially damaging noise – especially at nightclubs and gigs and by using MP3 players.

The damage builds up gradually, and the effects may not be noticed until years later, when it is too late - most hearing loss or tinnitus caused by noise exposure is permanent.

You can prevent deafness due to noise by taking steps to protect your hearing and by reducing the length of time you listen to very loud sounds.

Listening to any sound at a high volume – more than 89dB – for more than five hours a week can damage hearing permanently over time.

How to protect your hearing from loud music

M.U.S.I.C. M: MP3 players can be too loud for your ears - turn it down! U: Use chillout zones in clubs and take regular breaks from the loudest areas. S: Stand back from speakers - your ears will thank you! I: Invest in some noise cancelling headphones. C: Carry earplugs with you - they won't block music out, just make it safer.

What venues can do

Noise at work regulations only cover employees – outside the workplace, it is up to you to safeguard your hearing. We want venues to inform audiences when their hearing is at risk by displaying sound levels during events and supply earplugs.

We have also worked with the European Union to require manufacturers of MP3 players to encourage safe listening by providing guidelines on the packaging and in the custom settings of their products.

Research breakthrough. Human stem cells restore hearing.