Once our hearing is damaged, it’s often irreversible. Hearing loss is commonly caused by listening to loud noises for extended periods of time. But it is preventable.
Davis says listening to loud noise, exceeding 80 decibels, for an extended period of time can permanently damage your hearing. In Victoria, Worksafe specifies that you must wear hearing protection when exposed to noise levels greater than 85 decibels.
Some examples of noise which are generally fall below this level are traffic noise and vacuum cleaners whereas power tools and the lawn mower are likely to be above.
Because people who work in noisy environments, like tradies and factory workers, tend to have long exposure periods they are most at risk of hearing problems.
Those who consistently listen to loud music on devices with headphones can also damage their hearing.
“A good rule of thumb with headphones is if people external to you can hear the sound it’s probably too loud,” he says.
Davis says if you’ve been exposed to noise which hurts your ears or causes a ringing in your ears (known as tinnitus) for a short duration of time afterwards, then it’s a warning sign that what you were listening to was too loud.
“Generally if you experience temporary hearing loss (termed ‘temporary threshold shift’), and it happens often enough, you can develop permanent hearing loss.”
“The standard natural noise (not man made) that you hear in day to day life is generally not loud enough to cause harm, it can cause annoyance, but not lasting damage,” says Davis.
Davis says once you get into the very loud levels (above 100 decibels) the duration needed to cause permanent hearing loss can be very short. WorkCover states the duration of exposure before possible damage at this level is 15 min. Examples are pneumatic hammers, saws and frequently live concert music at a 2m radius from a speaker.
And according to the National Acoustic Laboratories
you only need to listen a noise that’s 110db for one minute to cause permanent damage to your hearing.
Davis says while there are rules and regulations in place to ensure tradesmen and factory workers wear hearing protection, he’s concerned about self-employed workers and regular DIY home handymen also.
“These groups tend to be poorly regulated or don’t understand the risks and can frequently end up with hearing loss,” he says.
“With tradies, the problem they have is they’re using power tools in bursts or for a very short duration, so they immediately think ‘I won’t bother wearing hearing protection, because I’m only using it for 20-30 seconds’,” says Davis. “But the problem is, power tools are frequently louder than 110 decibels so even if the duration is short, it can still permanently damage your hearing.”