Protecting your hearing from loud noise

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.

Bupa Audiologist Simon Davis has shared some simple steps.

Too loud, for too long

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.  

Very loud noises could damage you hearing in as little as 15 minutes

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. 

Tradies and handymen with tools are at risk

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.”

Tips to prevent hearing loss due to noise exposure

  • When using power tools or noisy machinery always wear ear muffs or ear plugs.
  • WorkCover Victoria recommends using Hearing protection which meets the Australian and New Zealand Hearing Regulations standards. These will have SLC 80 rating and this should appear on the packaging. WorkCover recommends a rating of 22dB for plugs and 25dB for muffs.
  • Be mindful when listening to music using headphones or within enclosed spaces.
  • Try not to stand or sit near the speakers at concerts.

Bupa Hearing

Bupa Hearing provides full hearing assessments with qualified hearing clinicians, services for hearing aids and great discounts for Bupa customers who have or need hearing devices.

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