Why is noise harmful?

Noise is everywhere. Even if it’s generally considered as just a bit of a nuisance, it can still cause irreversible damage to our hearing. 

Sound and noise are two precious components of everyday life that allow us to interact with the world around us. However, prolonged exposure to loud noise, both in the workplace and in everyday life, can become a danger and cause irreversible damage to long-term hearing.

Sound

A sound is defined by vibrations of air reaching the hearing medium. It consists of three inseparable elements:

  • Frequency: expressed in hertz (Hz) and indicating the number of vibrations during one second (100 Hz = 100 vibrations per second). The higher the frequency, the higher the sound.
  • Intensity: expressed in decibels (dB) and indicating the sound level. The higher the decibels, the louder the sound.
  • Duration: a sound can be emitted over a short period of time (explosion, jet aircraft) or over a longer period of time (machine in a workshop, pneumatic drill on a building site).

Noise

Unlike a sound that has an objective definition, noise is subjective and corresponds to sounds that are perceived as unpleasant and annoying. Each individual develops their own sensitivity to noise based on their culture, experience and exposure.

The effects of noise

Except in cases of exposure to extreme intensities, the effects of noise on hearing occur gradually. However, the consequences of noise aren’t limited to hearing. They also impact the body and daily life, both directly and indirectly.

Direct effects

The most radical direct consequence of exposure to noise is total loss of hearing after a number of years spent in noisy environments. But before getting to this extreme stage, prolonged exposure to loud noise can have other direct consequences on hearing.

Auditory fatigue

Auditory fatigue is a temporary partial loss of hearing during which the ear loses some of its sensitivity. Hearing is less good for several hours or several days.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a whooshing sound that is heard when there is no noise in the vicinity. Tinnitus can be transient or chronic and can affect one or both ears.

Indirect effects

Although the ear is the first organ to be affected, noise can also have repercussions on the whole body.

Quick tip: How do I know if I have hearing problems?

If you are regularly faced with the following situations in your environment:

  • You feel that people aren’t speaking clearly enough when they talk to you in a meeting.
  • You have difficulty following a conversation in a noisy environment, such as a family meal.
  • People keep saying that the TV or radio is too loud.

You probably have hearing problems. You should see a doctor or an ENT specialist for a hearing test.

 

Best Hearing Protection

The Best Form of Hearing Protection and Why It’s Essential

Why has access to the best hearing protection become so important in recent years? Today, our ears are assailed by a wider variety of noises and at greater volumes than at any time in the past. Unfortunately, the effects of this are to be seen in the unprecedented incidence of noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL. Not only has NIHL now become one of the most common reasons for workers to pursue a claim for industrial injury, but noise is now also the single most common cause of hearing loss among the general population worldwide. Given the extent to which humans rely, either consciously or unconsciously, on their ability to hear and interpret sounds, everyone who may be exposed to the risk of NIHL should have access to the best form of hearing protection available.

The first step in limiting the risk of NIHL must be to recognise what constitutes a risk. Sound is measured in units known as decibels and the measurements are arranged over a logarithmic scale in which each increase of approximately 3 dB results in a doubling of the perceived intensity of sound. A person breathing normally corresponds to around 10 dB, rustling leaves clock up about 20 dB, and a normal conversation will generate something between 50 and 60 dB. The danger levels begin at around 85 dB, as eight hours of continuous exposure to this is regarded as the threshold for safety. Any longer or any louder and you had best make sure to arrange some suitably effective hearing protection.

For employees in their workplace, there are now strict health and safety rules regarding the permitted levels of noise to which workers may be exposed to, thus defining the need for employers to provide protective measures for those exposed to potentially dangerous levels. In our homes and on the streets, however, such regulation is, respectively, either impossible or extremely difficult to enforce. It is, therefore, important for each of us to be aware of the various threats posed to our hearing in these common, everyday locations.

When tidying up the lawn with a lawnmower, for example, you could be generating as much as 95 dB. Should you spend more than an hour on this task without the best possible hearing protection, this could result in irreversible damage to the hair cells in the cochlea. These are the cells responsible for the conversion of soundwaves into nerve impulses for onward transmission to the auditory cortices in the brain where they would normally be interpreted. Attend a rock concert or listen to a portable music device through earbuds on full volume and you could be subjecting your ears to a massive 115 dB – enough to cause permanent damage in just 30 seconds. Stand within 25 metres of a jet at take-off and the 150 dB engine noise could rupture you eardrums instantly.

Having identified a few of the potential dangers, it is now an appropriate time to consider what might be the best form of hearing protection to counter them. To some degree, this will depend upon the circumstances and the level of noise to which one is likely to be exposed. For example, if heading to the shooting range to fire a few practice rounds, the standard ear defenders normally available for this purpose are likely to be quite adequate for the average visit. However, should your job require you to spend long periods in an environment where the sound levels consistently exceed the safety threshold, then a more effective and longer-standing solution will definitely be necessary.

In the working environment, particularly, total attenuation of sound would be impractical and possibly even dangerous, so only a device that is able to provide selective attenuation could be considered as the best possible type of hearing protection. When tailored to fit each ear individually, earplugs with an adjustable attenuator offer those at risk the ideal solution. The tailored fit rules out the possibility of sound leakage, while the attenuator can be adjusted to exclude any sounds of an intensity that might pose a threat to one’s hearing whilst, at the same time, permitting the wearer to hear subtler sounds, such as spoken instructions from a supervisor or just informal chat from colleagues.

For the best available option, H.A.S.S. Industrial offers a range of world-class, tailored earplugs for hearing protection under its Noise-Ban banner. They form part of a comprehensive hearing conservation management programme that protects employees and employers alike.

Earplugs for Sleeping

What Are the Important Qualities of Earplugs for Sleeping?

Sleep is far more than just a means with which to avoid boredom during the hours of darkness. It is an essential restorative process regulated by the body’s circadian cycle, preparing it both mentally and physically to meet the demands of the waking hours. Researchers maintain that adults need to spend between 6-8 hours in this state of altered consciousness each night. This enables necessary activities, such as cellular regeneration, information processing, and strengthening the immune system. While some seem able to sleep through anything, others are disturbed by the slightest noise and must always wear earplugs for sleeping.