About 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC). Of those, about 24% experience hearing difficulty, not to mention the other kinds of health issues that can occur with hazardous noise exposure.
Could this be you? How do you know if your ears (and your health) are being affected by loud, hazardous noises? And what do you do if they are? Read on.
Is your workplace too noisy?
Though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires hearing protection to be used based on specific regulations, an easy way to tell if there may be a noise problem in your workplace is if you:
- Hear ringing or humming in your ears when you leave work
- Have to shout to be heard by a coworker an arm's length away
- Experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work
Several sound-measuring instruments are available to get a more accurate gauge of workspace noise levels, such as the Sound Level Meter App from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), to help reduce occupational noise-induced hearing loss and more.
If your workplace is too noisy, here are the common hearing problems you’re up against.
Occupational noise-induced hearing loss
Damage to any part of the ear can cause hearing loss. If over time you put your hearing at risk, you could suffer from constant buzzing, diminished hearing, several related health issues, or worse – you could lose your hearing permanently. And loss of hearing can have a huge impact on your personal and work life, causing relationship issues and social isolation.
Here are the most common types of hearing loss that is experienced:
- Temporary hearing loss – Occurs when the tiny hairs in your inner ear (stereocilia) become slack (ex: like after going to a concert). After a sufficient break from loud noise, regeneration is possible.
- Acoustic trauma – A strong, often irreparable loss of hearing after a single short, very high noise exposure or a series of high noise exposures (ex: the sound of a pistol or explosion)
- Tinnitus – A very distressing condition, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is an early sign of hearing damage that can become permanent. Caused by prolonged exposure to loud sounds, there is no effective cure for this condition but there is treatment available for easing the symptoms.
- Permanent hearing loss – This arises after long-term periods of high noise exposure without breaks (ex: working in a factory with loud noises for many years). The blood supply in the inner ear will be disturbed, which causes irreparable damage to the stereocilia.
Other health effects of loudness on your ears
Exposure to high levels of noise do more than damage your hearing – it affects your day-to-day life in other ways.
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate – Noise can influence the cardiovascular system, resulting in an increase in blood pressure and the release of catecholamines in the blood. An increased level of catecholamines in the blood is associated with stress.
- Mental and physical issues – According to OSHA, loud noise can create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity, interfere with communication and concentration, resulting in poor judgments and decision-making processes.
- Temporary (TTS) and permanent (PTS) threshold shifts – Exposure to intense sound can produce TTS, acute changes in hearing sensitivity that recover over time, or PTS, a loss that does not recover to pre-exposure levels.
- Risk of accidents – Performance in safety-critical tasks that demand continuous attention may be affected by noise, which could lead to workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult to hear warning signals (OSHA).
- Effect on pregnancy – Research suggests that prolonged exposure of the unborn child to high noise levels during pregnancy may have an effect on a child’s later hearing and that low frequencies have a greater potential for causing harm. One recommendation is that pregnant women should avoid noise levels over 80 dB(A).
- Social isolation – As hearing becomes challenging, people will often avoid interactive activities, such as social, business, or transactional situations — and instead choose to withdraw and isolate themselves.
How to protect your hearing
Since hearing loss happens over time, using prevention methods and protection as early and as often as possible is key in an at-risk zone – both at home and at work.
When at home
The following steps can help you prevent noise-induced hearing loss and avoid worsening of age-related hearing loss:
- Turn down the volume or step away from the sound – Limiting the duration and intensity of your exposure to noise is the best protection.
- Have your hearing tested – Consider regular hearing tests if you work in a noisy environment. If you've lost some hearing, you can take steps to prevent further loss.
- Minimize risks during recreational tasks – Loud activities, such as mowing the lawn, hunting, using power tools, or attending rock concerts can damage your hearing over time. Wearing hearing protection when the noise is consistently over 85 dB or taking breaks from the noise can protect your ears.
When at work
In occupational noise scenarios, more precautions are necessary – and required. Noise controls are the first line of defense against excessive noise exposure. When at work, here are best practices for employers (and how employees can benefit):
- Minimize the exposure period – Companies can use engineering and administrative controls to reduce sound exposure levels that are technologically feasible for most noise sources. This could include modifying or replacing equipment, making related physical changes at the noise source or transmission path, or eliminating the worker exposure to noise entirely.
- Use hearing protection – In addition to the precautions above, hearing protection devices (HPDs) like earmuffs or earplugs are the last line of defense to help control exposures to noise.
HexArmor® can help
There are several factors to consider when choosing which earplug or earmuff technology is right for you, and HexArmor® can help. We offer varying levels of hearing protection so you can be properly protected for your environment.
If you need help choosing what you need, contact one of our Solutions Specialists today at 1.877.MY.ARMOR or visit www.hexarmor.com.