Hearing loss affects over 11 million people in the UK. It has a number of different reasons, and can happen to anyone of any age. One of the most common causes is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which happens when a loud external noise damages a person’s inner ear. NIHL can happen immediately, after a one-off exposure to a loud sound, or it can happen gradually over time. It can affect one or both ears, and it can be temporary or permanent. Exposure to loud noise can also cause tinnitus, described as ringing or buzzing in the ears. Thankfully, NIHL is one of the few kinds of hearing loss that can be prevented.
We all encounter noisy environments on a regular basis, from city traffic and construction sites to firework displays. How harmful a noise is depends on how loud it is, how long you are exposed to it for and how far from the source of sound you are.
Sound is measured in decibels (dB). The louder a noise, the higher its decibel value is. An average conversation takes place at around 60dB, while the humming of a refrigerator measures around 45dB. A train whistle, meanwhile, can be as loud as 95dB. Our ears can tolerate sounds up to 75dB for prolonged amounts of time, without risking hearing loss.
The human ear is extremely delicate. Loud noise can kill the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear, and in some cases even perforate or rupture the eardrum or small surrounding bones.
These structures are all crucial for transmitting sound from the ear to the brain. Once they are damaged, permanent hearing loss may occur.
Experts recommend that we should avoid prolonged exposure to sounds above 75dB. A good rule of thumb is to listen to your ears – if a noise is too loud, too close or goes on for too long, it is probably harmful.
Some sounds may be unavoidable if they take you by surprise. However in most cases, you can anticipate a noisy situation and take steps to protect yourself.
If you have been exposed to loud noise, or think you may have a hearing loss, we recommend that you have a hearing test as soon as possible. To make an appointment, give us a call on 0131 220 1220, or pop in to one of our centres – our specialists will be happy to help!