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Can noise damage my hearing?
Can my hearing be permanently damaged from loud noise?
How can my hearing be damaged?
How are noise levels measured?
What noise level is unsafe?
What are the warning signs of unsafe noise levels?
What can I do protect my ears from hazardous noise?
What types of earplugs are available?
What are they made of?
What are 'Hi-Fi' earplugs?

Can noise damage my hearing?

Noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss is usually painless and gradual, which often makes it difficult to notice that it has occurred until it is too late. Once it happens, it is permanent.

Can my hearing be permanently damaged from loud noise?

Yes. Loud noise can damage the tiny hair cells that line the inner ear that transmit signals to the brain, which are interpreted as sound. Noise damage over a long period can cause these hair cells to die and they cannot be repaired. This damage results in sensorineural hearing loss and often tinnitus (ringing of the ears).

How can my hearing be damaged?

Your hearing can be damaged by a combination of three factors - the length of time you expose yourself to a noise, the average level of the noise and the peak level of the noise. However another variable is how susceptible you are to hearing damage. This varies from person to person and you can only know how susceptible you are after you have damaged your hearing.

How are noise levels measured?

The daily exposure to noise is directly related to the risk of hearing damage.
Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB), which is a scale that reflects the sensitivity of human ears to different levels of sound.

The following are decibel levels of common sources of noise.
0 dB the lowest sound level a person with normal hearing can detect
20 dB is a quiet room at night
60 dB is ordinary spoken conversation
80 dB is shouting
90 dB is an underground railway
110 dB is a pneumatic drill nearby
130 dB is an aeroplane taking off 100m away

What noise level is unsafe?

Experts agree that continued exposure to noise at or above 85dB over time could cause damage to hearing. Simply put, the louder you listen, the shorter the time you should listen.

What are the warning signs of unsafe noise levels?

You can't hear someone three feet away.
You have pain in your ears after leaving a noisy area.
You hear ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in your ears immediately after exposure to noise.
You suddenly have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise; you can hear people talking but you cannot understand them.

What can I do protect my ears from hazardous noise?

Since they reduce the sound volume, earplugs are often used to help prevent hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing of the ears). Remember, cotton and tissue are useless. They only reduce sound by less than 7 dB.

What types of earplugs are available?

Earplugs come in numerous shapes and colours, with different characteristics and different levels of hearing protection. They may be mass-produced as well as custom made to fit the ear. Besides that, they can be both reusable and disposable.

What are they made of?

The disposable plugs are made of a foam material (mostly polyurethane foam or memory foam). These are compressed and put into the ear canal, where they expand to plug it. The reusable plugs are mostly made of silicone. These are carefully moulded to fit over the external portion of the ear canal, providing a snug custom fit for the wearer.

What are 'Hi-Fi' earplugs?

'Hi-Fi' earplugs are marketed to musicians who need to hear sounds clearly and who need their hearing protected.

'Hi-Fi' earplugs will reduce sound throughout all frequencies in a flat response, resulting in a clear and natural sound. You have to have the ear-mould custom-made to fit your ear perfectly and it will include a filter that suits your needs - 9, 15, or 25dB of sound.

These are commonly used by musicians and technicians, both in the studio and in concert, to avoid overexposure to high volume levels. In other activities, hobby motorcyclists and skiers may also choose to use decibel reduction earplugs, to compensate for the ongoing noise of the wind against their head or helmet.