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Noise-induced hearing loss

With the world becoming louder, many people experience changes to their hearing earlier in life and may experience noise-induced hearing loss and hearing damage

However, despite increasing incidence as people get older, age is not the greatest cause of hearing loss in New Zealand.

Hearing damage

Extensive exposure to high levels of noise is another common cause of hearing loss. If you are exposed to loud noise for a long period of time, the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear become damaged. As the number of living hair cells within the ear fall, you lose the ability to hear. Some people have a higher risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss at work such as military personnel, musicians, listening to loud music at live concerts and through headphones and construction and factory workers.

Baby boomers – those who born between 1946 and 1964, are most likely candidates for noise-induced hearing loss; much of this hearing damage may result from exposure to continuous loud noise over an extended period of time. Loud music, personal stereo systems, factory noise, home power tools, lawn mowers and the roar of construction sites can all increase the risk of noise-induced hearing loss and hearing damage.

Over the years before Occupational Health & Safety became such an important issue in the workplace, millions of New Zealander's went to work in noisy factories, building sites and plants without being provided with adequate hearing protection to prevent hearing damage.

All types of plant and machinery – as well as the high volume of noise in vehicles – can contribute towards hearing loss. Even exposure to very high levels of intermittent noise over relatively short periods can cause hearing damage. For example, using heavy duty power or impact tools.

Technology and noise-induced hearing loss

The surge in the use of personal listening devices is also creating more instances of irreversible hearing damage and is especially prevalent amongst those who listen to music at high volumes. Extended exposure to sound in excess of 85 decibels may cause long term noise-induced hearing loss. Recent surveys have shown that many people are listening to music at much higher levels, typically in excess of 115 decibels. This represents significant potential for causing hearing damage in a matter of a few minutes with ongoing exposures potentially resulting in permanent hearing loss.

Hearing damage - how loud is too loud?

The sound in state-of-the-art cinemas has also become significantly louder – sometimes so loud it can be painful. The volume often peaks at 110 or 112 decibels for “noisy” movies, that’s the same as a jack hammer! At these levels, viewers could experience alterations to their hearing lasting from minutes to days.

Rock music concerts have also made a leap in volume over the past decades. Although levels are supposedly capped at about 95 decibels, they can typically exceed 120 decibels. 

The reality is that prolonged exposure to noise can cause hearing damage to the more sensitive cells in the cochlea within the ear, and this begins to affect the hearing of certain frequencies – particularly the higher frequency sounds.

Many people with this type of hearing loss find it really difficult to have conversations, and to hear clearly, in noisy environments. Often because the higher pitched consonants seem to be missing they may find it hard to discern one sound over a competing sound, so they are constantly straining to follow a conversation over all the background noise. There might also be a continuous or intermittent ringing in the ears.

Despite this being a serious health issue which can affect physical and emotional well-being, many people do not seek help for their hearing problems. The majority take many years before they actually take the first step to have their hearing tested, and by that time, the hearing damage is more difficult to address.

A clinical hearing test is the best way to determine whether exposure to noise has resulted in noise-induced hearing loss and hearing damage. For more information call the team at Audika on 0800 001 726. 

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