Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss. Neither surgery nor a hearing aid can help correct this type of hearing loss. Short term exposure to loud noise can also cause a temporary change in hearing (your ears may feel stuffed up) or a ringing in your ears (tinnitus). These short-term problems may go away within a few minutes or hours after leaving the noise. However, repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent tinnitus and/or hearing loss.
Loud noise can create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity, interfere with communication and concentration, and contribute to workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult to hear warning signals. The effects of noise induced hearing loss can be profound, limiting your ability to hear high frequency sounds, understand speech, and seriously impairing your ability to communicate.
When sound waves enter the outer ear, the vibrations impact the ear drum and are transmitted to the middle and inner ear. In the middle ear three small bones called the malleus (or hammer), the incus (or anvil), and the stapes (or stirrup) amplify and transmit the vibrations generated by the sound to the inner ear. The inner ear contains a snail-like structure called the cochlea which is filled with fluid and lined with cells with very fine hairs. These microscopic hairs move with the vibrations and convert the sound waves into nerve impulses–the result is the sounds we hear. Exposure to loud noise can destroy these hair cells and cause hearing loss!
The following references provide assistance in recognizing the health effects of excessive noise.
- Effects of Excessive Exposure. OSHA Noise and Hearing Conservation eTool.
- Occupational exposure to noise: evaluation, prevention and control. World Health Organization (WHO). Provides an in depth look at all aspects of noise.
- Noise at Work. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Noise topic page from EU-OSHA, including guidance materials, publications, standards, reports, and other resources, such as the following:
- Factsheet 57 - The impact of noise at work [113 KB PDF, 2 pages].
- Factsheet 67 - Noise in figures [170 KB PDF, 2 pages].
- National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA). Noise and hearing loss resources, including publications developed in Alliance with OSHA.
- Better Hearing Institute. Educational resources on noise and hearing loss.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Promotes the interests of and provides the highest quality services for professionals in audiology, speech-language pathology, and speech and hearing science, and advocates for people with communication disabilities.
- Hearing Loss. Provides the signs of hearing loss, and statistics about its prevalence among adults.
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