Occupational noise is the term used to describe any type of noise that is encountered in a work environment. It can range from machinery, loud conversations, and even other workers.
Unfortunately, long-term exposure to occupational noise can lead to hearing loss as well as other health issues. Understanding how occupational noise can cause hearing loss and ways to prevent it is essential for maintaining good hearing health.
What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)
Noise-induced hearing loss, also known as NIHL, is a permanent type of hearing impairment that is caused by prolonged exposure to loud noises. It can occur after just one day of high-intensity sound exposure or gradually over time due to continual exposure to high noise levels due to occupation.
The most common signs and symptoms associated with NIHL are difficulty understanding speech when in crowded or noisy places, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and muffled hearing.
Causes of Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Prolonged and cumulative exposure to excessive levels of sound is the most common cause of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Research suggests that humans can begin to experience NIHL after being exposed to sounds of 85 decibels or higher for 8 hours.
The risk of hearing loss is directly related to the level of sound exposure. For instance, a sound energy level of 110 decibels significantly increases the risk compared to a sound energy level of 85 decibels.
Interestingly, even at lower levels, high-frequency sounds like those generated by machinery can cause damage more easily than low-frequency sounds like conversation.
Jobs with Higher Risk of Occupational Noise
Certain occupations are known to have a higher risk of occupational noise-induced hearing loss. Generally, these jobs involve extended time near noisy machinery or other loud sounds.
Construction workers, factory workers, military personnel, and miners are all at elevated risk due to their frequent exposure to loud noises. In addition, musicians and sound technicians, due to their extensive use of headphones and speakers, can also be at risk.
Prevention of Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
The best way to prevent NIHL is by taking steps to reduce the amount of noise you’re exposed to at work. This includes using appropriate hearing protection, such as earplugs or headphones, when necessary.
Additionally, employers should take steps to reduce the noise in their workplaces. This could include using sound-absorbing materials on walls and ceilings, providing workers with quieter tools, and scheduling louder tasks during times of lesser activity.
Finally, workers should be aware of the risks associated with occupational noise and take regular breaks during periods of excessive sound to give their ears a break.
Occupational noise can lead to hearing loss if not properly managed. Understanding how noise can lead to NIHL and taking the necessary steps to reduce your exposure is essential for maintaining good hearing health.
Make sure to reach out to an audiologist to discuss what hearing protection is best for your situation. With the right knowledge and preventative measures, you can ensure that your hearing remains in good health.