Concern is growing over the rising exposure to loud sounds in recreational settings such as pubs, bars, nightclubs, cinemas, concerts, sporting events and even fitness classes! With the range of technology available, devices such as music players are often listened to at unsafe volumes and for prolonged periods of time. Regular exposure to loud noise poses a serious threat of irreversible hearing loss!
Exposure to loud sounds for any length of time causes fatigue of the ear’s sensory cells. The result is temporary hearing loss or tinnitus (a ringing sensation in the ear). A person enjoying a loud concert may come out experiencing ‘muffled’ hearing or tinnitus. The hearing improves as the sensory cells recover. When the exposure is particularly loud, regular or prolonged, it can cause permanent damage of the sensory cells and other structures, resulting in irreversible hearing loss.
If you imagine hair cells as you would a patch of grass, you can walk across that patch of grass and the grass bends but comes back up straight. But if you walk over the grass over and over again or you drive a truck over the grass not all the blades will come back up straight, many blades will be broken. The truck is like loud noise. The blades of grass or the hair bundles bend over and are broken off, killing them. The death of these hair cells is permanent. No hair cells will grow back to take its place, which causes the hearing loss!
The high frequency range (i.e. high-pitched sounds) is impacted first and may not be noticeable immediately. Continued exposure to loud noise leads to progression of hearing loss, eventually affecting speech understanding and the individual’s quality of life. Some people may be more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss than others. Genetic predisposition and chronic conditions such as diabetes are known to increase the risk of acquiring noise induced hearing loss. Protecting our hearing and prevention are the most effective ways to avoid such hearing loss, as we cannot tell who is most susceptible to this.
Safe listening levels depend on how loud, long and frequent the exposure is. 85dB is considered the highest safe exposure level up to a maximum of eight hours. The accepted time for safe listening decreases as sound levels increase.
For every 3 dB over 85dB, the acceptable exposure time before possible damage can occur is cut in half.
Did you know?
Being on a dance floor for 15 minutes at 100dB delivers the same amount of noise energy to the ear (and therefore potential damage) as being on a slightly less noisy dance floor at 95dB for 45 minutes. A small reduction in volume makes a big difference to the length of time you should listen for.
Preventing damage to your hearing
An easy way to become aware of potentially harmful noise is to pay attention to warning signs that a sound might be damaging to your hearing. A sound may be harmful if:
- You have difficulty talking or hearing others talk over the sound.
- The sound makes your ears hurt.
- Your ears are ringing after hearing the sound.
- Other sounds seem muffled after you leave an area where there is loud sound.
What can you do?
- Keep the volume down. Volume can be reduced when listening to personal audio devices.
- Wear earplugs when frequenting nightclubs, bars, pubs, sporting events and other noisy places, use well-inserted earplugs as hearing protection.
- Limit exposure time. The duration of the exposure to noise is one of the key factors. It is advisable to have short listening breaks.
- At a noisy venue, stay as far away as possible from sound sources such as loudspeakers. Moving to quieter locations within venues can reduce the level of exposure.
- Limit the daily use of personal audio devices.
If at any point you start to experience tinnitus or have difficulties hearing sounds such as doorbells, telephones, understanding speech or following conversations in noisy environments seek help from a hearing health care professional.
Join the community calling for noise to be taken out off the menu: www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/decibelsquad