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.
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).
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.
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 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 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.
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.