Noise: How damage occurs and when it’s done.
What Is Noise?
In today's world we are constantly bombarded with sound. Many sounds are enjoyable, but unfortunately there are often situations where sound becomes noise. So what is noise?
The reason there are differences in what is perceived as noise is that some people are more sensitive to noise than others. But we can all agree that noise is unwanted sound; and in terms of our hearing, a loud noise is a sound that may cause hearing impairment.
For people with a hearing loss, background noise presents a particular problem because their ability to understand speech in noisy surroundings is usually very limited. Added to this is a problem that some hearing aids not only amplify speech, but also background noise, making hearing clearly in noisy situations very difficult.
How does noise damage our hearing?
The ear is a complex organ and its delicate parts can be damaged by the impact of loud sound. The inner ear is furnished with sensory cells which convert sound into nerve impulses that can be understood by the brain. If they are exposed to very loud sounds, these sensory cells can be damaged or destroyed. As these cells cannot heal or regenerate, permanent hearing loss may well result. Therefore, it is important to take care of our hearing by being cautious about our exposure to noise.
Sources of Noise
We live in a noisy world. We are exposed to all kinds of sounds at work and our children have noisy lives in day care centers, schools and clubs. Leisure activities such as sports, the cinema and concerts as well as the sounds of traffic, all contribute to the noise around us.
Music is usually an enjoyable experience, but when it is too loud it becomes harmful noise. At a rock concert the noise level can be as high as 120 dB. Portable media/CD/tape players, which are particularly popular among young people, are also a potentially serious of noise if used for lengthy periods of time at a high volume.
To reduce the risk of hearing loss resulting from exposure to noise in the workplace, most countries have introduced regulations that limit the permitted daily permitted daily noise exposure of workers employed in noisy and environments to 85 dB. This limit is based upon the intensity of the noise and the length of time of exposure. The higher the noise intensity of the noise, the shorter the time that the worker is permitted to work within that noise. Applying the same criteria tot he other sources of noise would put someone, perhaps listening to a very loud concert at levels of 110 dB, at risk of some permanent hearing impairment after just few minutes.
The best we can do for our hearing is,of course, to avoid excessive noise. This can be difficult, but there are several important steps we can take….
- Be aware of the various potential sources of noise and strive for a healthier sound environment.
- "Listen" to our own ears. If loud sounds feel uncomfortable or painful, our ears are telling us that the sound could be causing damage. This is the body's own warning system. Keep in mind that the ear's ability to warn us of dangerous noise levels can be reduced, for example when drinking alcohol
- Wearing hearing protection is a good solution when we are in very noisy environments. There are a great variety of products available that can be used to block out noise. At music festivals, concerts and in discotheques, where the sound level is often uncomfortably loud, it is a good idea to use earplugs. Even these tiny, discreet devices can offer significant protection.
What to do if the damage has already been done?
If one's hearing ability begins to falter, steps should be taken as soon as possible to optimize communication and quality of life. While a few symptoms of hearing problems can be treated medically or surgically, hearing loss caused by exposure to harmful noise is best helped by hearing aids. The sophisticated amplification provided by today's hearing aids can be a big help towards better hearing.