Can you get Hearing Loss from Exposure to Loud Noises?
We live in a world that, because we possess ears, is enriched by a vast array of sounds. Birdsong, the rustle of trees caressed by the breeze, the sound of waves breaking on shore and the laughter of children at play were once the predominant sounds that provided our simple pleasures and encouraged us to relax. That world, however, has undergone a major transformation with the arrival of the industrial age. Sadly, the legacy of progress has been that many of those tranquil sounds have now been replaced by the often painfully loud and raucous noises of a mechanised world. Repeated exposure to these new sounds, we now know explains why so many people develop hearing loss today.
For more than two centuries, it was the fate of those manning the newly emerging machines to endure their noise continuously throughout a working day, which was often close to double the length of that seen as acceptable today. The incidences of progressive deafness among the new breed of machine operators was close to 100 percent, and some even welcomed their impairment as providing them with a respite from the daily cacophony of sounds that they had grown used to.
The question posed here should perhaps not be whether or not you can get hearing loss from exposure to loud noises, but just how long it is likely to take and whether there may be some way in which it can be avoided. Prevention is, quite justifiably, claimed to be better than cure. In this case, however, prevention is the sole option, as it has not proved possible for doctors or surgeons to cure any form of deafness to date, but only to help those that are affected to manage their condition more effectively.
The risks posed by excessively high levels of noise in the workplace have gradually been eliminated with the introduction of legislation mandating employers to provide adequate protection for their workers. In many countries, including South Africa, they are now required both to take steps to limit the ambient noise as much as possible and to issue employees with ear defenders. Noise abatement and stricter town planning regulations may help, at least, to reduce the significant risks due to jet aircraft taking off and landing, and highway traffic respectively.
Unfortunately, you can get hearing loss from exposure to loud noises, even though you may actually enjoy them. Fireworks and gunfire can often lead to temporary deafness that wears of eventually, and are only a risk to those who are exposed to these on an ongoing basis. Music, however, poses the biggest problem. Until legislation restricts manufacturers to limiting the output of devices such as Walkmans, MP3 players and iPods to no more than 75 decibels, our young people will continue to be the group that is most at risk. As it stands, these mobile music players churn out well over 100dB and are usually operated at full volume. Take note, it can take no more than 15 minutes of exposure at such levels to cause permanent sensorineural deafness, a cumulative condition that could worsen with each subsequent exposure.
The Ear Institute offers professional advice along with the means to minimise this risk. So, if you have concerns, don’t hesitate to make an appointment.