Harmful Noises

Like most things in life, if taken at the proper amount and the proper time, we can enjoy the benefits. But if it is taken too much or too long, we can see the negative effects, or, if is taken too little or too short we cannot enjoy the benefits at all. With that said, the sound is also no different. Too soft and we cannot enjoy the pleasure of hearing and too loud, it can produce a damaging effect. But at the right sound level can have a very beneficial effect on us. So, what we need to know is at what noise level can be harmful to our health and how does it affect us.

Different people have different level of noise tolerant. Some people’s ear is more sensitive to loud sound. But any sound that is loud enough or last long enough can cause hearing damaged and eventually lead to hearing loss. A sound’s loudness is measured in decibels(dB). Normal conversation is about 60 dB, a lawn mower is about 90 dB, and a rock concert is about 120 dB. That is twice the normal conversation level. Imagine the effects on our ears if the rock concert last for 2 hours. In general, sound that are above 85 dB are harmful, depending on how often or how long you are exposed. Wearing hearing protection such as earmuffs and earplugs can also give you a significant protection.

The table above shows dB levels and how noise from everyday sources can affect your hearing.

Preventing damage to your hearing

You probably don’t always carry a sound level meter with you. So how can you know if noises are to loud? An easy way to become aware of potentially harmful noise is to pay attention to warning signs that a sound might be damaging to your hearing. A sound may be harmful if:

  • You have difficulty talking or hearing others talk over sound
  • The sound makes your ears hurt
  • Your ears ringing after hearing the sound
  • Other sound seems muffled after you leave the area with loud sound

Most cases of noise-induced hearing loss are not caused by loud noise but caused by repeated exposure to moderate level of noise over many years. Wearing hearing protectors can help prevent damage from both moderate and loud noise.

If you work in a place where the noise level is in harmful category, plan ahead and wear hearing protection. People who may be regularly exposed to harmful noise because of their jobs include:

  • Those who work with loud machines, vehicles, or power tools, such as construction workers, factory workers, farmers, truck drivers, mechanics, or airport ground crew workers.
  • Military personnel.
  • Police officers and firefighters.
  • Musicians

Hearing Loss

Let’s get a bit into biology. How do loud noises hurt your hearing? It may help to first understand how you hear:

  • Sound goes into your ear as sound waves. The louder the sound, the bigger the sound wave.
  • The outer ear, which is what you see on the side of your head, collects the sound wave. The sound wave travels down the ear canal toward your eardrum. This makes your eardrum vibrate.
  • The sound vibration makes the three middle ear bones move. The movement makes the sound vibrations bigger.
  • The last of the three middle ear bones moves the sound vibrations into the inner ear, or cochlea. The cochlea is filled with fluid and has tiny hair cells along the inside. The vibrations make the fluid in the inner ear move. The fluid makes the hair cells move, too. The hair cells change the vibrations into electrical signals that travel to your brain through your hearing nerve.
  • Only healthy hair cells can send electrical signals to your brain. We recognize sounds in our brains and use that information to figure out how to respond.

You may lose some of your hearing if the hair cells get damaged. How does this happen?

  • Hair cells are sensitive to big movements. If sounds are loud, they move the fluid in the inner ear more, and that can damage the hair cells.
  • Hair cells that are damaged by loud sounds do not send signals to the brain as well as they should. The first hair cells that are hurt are those that send high-pitched sounds to the brain. This can make some words harder to hear.
  • Short, loud noises like a firecracker or an explosion can damage hair cells. Listening to loud sounds for a long time, like when you are at a rock concert, also damages hair cells.

Protecting Your Hearing

Now that you know how noise impact hearing. You have taken the first step to protect your hearing. The next step is to avoid or reduce loud noise. Just remember that if you need to shout to speak, it is too loud. Get away from noise and protect your ears. Some of the things you can do:

  1. Wear hearing protection. Do not wear cotton in your ears as it will not work. You can buy hearing protector such as earplugs and earmuffs or use both if the noise level is above 100 dB
  2. Do not listen to loud sound for too long. Move away from loud sound if you are unprotected. Give your ears a break
  3. Lower your volume. If you love to hear music with headphones or earphones, make sure the volume is set to no more than half. The World Health Organization recommends a total of 40 hours of weekly exposure to volume levels no higher than 80 dB for adults and 75 dB for children on personal listening devices.
  4. Be a good consumer. When buying home appliances, look for noise rating. Buy quieter product. Product your family’s hearing

Just because you think you can tolerate the loud noise, it doesn’t mean your ears can. Noise-induced hearing loss is usually slow and painless. But, it is permanent. Once the hair cells and hearing nerve are damaged, they cannot be fixed. If loud sounds don’t bother you, you may already have some hearing damage.

You can avoid noise-induced hearing. Protect your hearing for life.

Written by: Muhammad Syahid Bin Abu Bakar

Posted on February  10, 2021

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