People encounter loud sounds daily, whether while sitting in traffic, out shopping or working out at the gym. You may also encounter higher noise levels at your workplace. A coworker who takes long, loud personal calls at his desk, or perhaps you work with noisy machinery on a regular basis. A coworker that talks too loudly is certainly annoying, but it is unlikely to damage your hearing. However, prolonged exposure to loud sounds at work can cause noise-induced hearing loss.
How does noise-induced hearing loss occur?
When a noise happens, sound waves pass through the ear canal to the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates and passes these vibrations on to three small bones in the ear. The ear bones cause fluid vibrations in the cochlea, which is divided by the basilar membrane. Once the fluid begins to vibrate in the cochlea, there is a wave that travels along this membrane. Hair cells on top of the basilar membrane move up and down, and eventually an electrical signal is created that the brain translates into sound.
When people hear sounds over a certain volume, these hair cells are damaged or killed off. Once these cells are gone, the hair does not grow back. This results in noise-induced hearing loss.
Sound is measured in decibels. Exposure to sounds over 85 decibels can cause noise-induced hearing loss, particularly prolonged exposure. However, the louder the sound is, the less time it takes for hearing loss to occur.
Certain professions pose an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss
Working in an office probably does not expose employees to sounds over 85 decibels very often. However, other types of jobs may repeatedly expose you to noises over the acceptable range.
Here are a few professions that might expose you to sounds that could cause hearing loss:
- Ambulance drivers are exposed to an ambulance siren, which is about 120 decibels.
- Factory workers often work with loud machinery or trucks that can reach 115 decibels.
- Construction workers use a variety of tools and are subjected to many kinds of sounds on job sites. A jackhammer’s sound is at about 100 decibels.
- Flight crew members deal with loud noise during takeoff. The noise of a plan taking off can reach 130 decibels.
Any exposure to these sounds could cause noise-induced hearing loss. If you have experienced hearing loss due to noise at work, you may be able to file for a workers’ compensation claim. Remember, an injury that occurs at work, even an injury like hearing loss, is potentially eligible for compensation benefits.