Noise is a major contributor to hearing loss. Loud sounds can cause damage to tiny hair cells (stereocilia) within your ears that play an important role in hearing. These hair cells cannot grow back, so once they are damaged, they are lost forever.
Loud noises can harm your hearing in two ways: from individual loud sounds that occur once, such as an explosion or gunshot, and from elevated noise levels that occur in your environment on a regular, everyday basis.
Noise-induced hearing loss is fairly common, affecting at least 10 million adults over the age of 70, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Workplaces are a common source of noise. In fact, nearly a quarter of hearing loss in America is associated with workplace noise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At Sharp Hearing Care Professionals, Dr. Kevin Sharim and our team of audiologists and hearing specialists take occupational hearing loss seriously. In addition to treating people with noise-induced hearing loss, we educate our patients on how to prevent hearing loss due to workplace noise.
Here, we offer seven crucial strategies for protecting yourself from occupational hearing loss.
Strategy #1: Evaluate your situation
The first step toward protecting your hearing at work is to be aware of whether noise is a problem at your workplace. Although noise can be an issue at any place of employment, the following are some employment environments that tend to be noisiest:
- Ambulances and other vehicles with sirens
- Carpentry and car repair shops
- Construction sites
- Jobs that expose workers to loud machinery
- Landscaping companies
- Manufacturing companies
- Performing arts venues
- Schools, especially those with younger children
- The military
- Transportation jobs (buses, trucks, railroads)
Strategy #2: Understand how sound is measured
Sound is measured using a type of unit known as a decibel (dBA). Sounds that measure 70 dBA or below are mostly safe. Sounds at 85 dBA or above may cause or contribute to hearing loss, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Sound meters such as this free downloadable app from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) can measure the noise levels in your workplace. If you determine that noise is a problem on the job, you can take steps to protect yourself from it.
Strategy #3: Avoid loud sounds
Whenever possible, stay away from loud noises at work. Choose the quietest machinery and equipment and position yourself as far as you can from noise sources. If you must be exposed to loud noise, keep exposure as short as possible.
Strategy #4: Wear ear protection
Earplugs, earmuffs, and other forms of hearing protection can reduce the amount of sound that makes its way to the tiny hair cells in your ears. Your employer may provide ear protection, or you may have to acquire it on your own.
Our practice offers patients a variety of hearing-protective earmolds. These customized devices block excess sound while allowing you to perform important tasks. For example, we have specially designed earmolds for musicians, firearm users, and swimmers.
Ear protectors don't eliminate all sound. To understand how much noise they block, look for their noise reduction rating (NRR). The higher the NRR, the better the product is at blocking sound. To get the most from your hearing protection, read the directions carefully so you can make sure to use the product correctly.
Strategy #5: Learn about your rights as a worker
You have a right to a safe workplace where your hearing will not be damaged. But you may have to speak up to get the protection you need.
NIOSH provides workers with detailed information about regulation and standards for noise on the job. Learn more by visiting the NIOSH website. You can also bring questions about noise at your workplace to your union representative or human resources department.
Strategy #6: Protect your hearing outside of work, too
In addition to wearing hearing protection at work, be sure to protect your ears during musical performances, when attending fireworks displays or auto races, when operating a lawnmower or snowblower, and when performing loud recreational activities, such as hunting, snowmobiling, or motorcycling.
The damage caused by loud noise is cumulative, and the more you can reduce exposure, the better.
Strategy #7: Have regular hearing evaluations
Our specialists can help catch noise-related hearing loss early, when it's easiest to treat. If you are exposed to noise on the job, we recommend having hearing evaluations once every year or two, or more frequently if your provider advises it. We can also point you to the proper hearing protection for work and leisure.
To schedule an appointment with our care team, contact one of our offices, which are conveniently located in Oxnard, Santa Barbara, West Hills, and Santa Monica, California.