Hearing/hearing loss

Information related to hearing and hearing loss can be found in the leaflets below.

How can I protect my ears from noise?

How does noise cause a hearing loss?

Noise damage occurs in the inner part of the ear at the Cochlea. This structure contains tiny sound sensitive ‘hair cells’ which convert the sound wave into electrical impulses that travel to the brain where it is processed as sound. Excessive and prolonged noise damages these delicate hair cells beyond repair. Most hearing loss or tinnitus caused by noise exposure is permanent.

Diagram of outer, middle and inner ear

Sometimes the first sign that your ear has been damaged by noise is tinnitus (tinnitus is described as a sound you can hear in your ears or in your head that lasts for more than 5 minutes at a time). You may get tinnitus before you notice any effect on your hearing and can be temporary, but continued exposure to loud noise may make it permanent.

Once your cochlea has been damaged no treatment or surgery can undo it, so it is important to prevent your hearing from being damaged by noise in the first place.

Loud noise is a feature of everyday life, so you will not be able to cut it out completely, but you can avoid unnecessary damage to your ears by taking some simple steps.

How noisy is too noisy?

Prolonged and repeated exposure to loud noise – whether at work in a factory or even just listening to loud music – can damage your hearing. In fact, listening to any sound at a high volume (more than 89 decibels which is roughly the same level as a loud vacuum cleaner), for more than five hours a week can damage hearing permanently over time.

Unfortunately damage builds up gradually, and the effects may not be noticed until years later.

Noise at work

Employers are obliged to take action to protect your hearing under the ‘Noise at work’ regulations, which protect you if you are in a noisy job by providing ear protection and giving you appropriate training and information on how to use and maintain it.

If you work in a noisy environment – such as construction, manufacturing or a music venue – your employer should make sure that you have hearing protection. Under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, employers have a duty to assess noise levels. Hearing protection must be supplied when levels reach 80dB(A) and employees will be enforced to wear it when levels reach 85dB(A).

For more details and information on employers responsibilities or look at the ‘noise at work act 1989’, visit www.hse.gov.uk/noise.

What can I do at home?

Noise at work regulations only cover employees – outside the workplace, it is up to you to safeguard your hearing. Some things you use at home and social situations can do just as much damage as workplace machinery – for example DIY tools, Gardening machinery, music concerts or even going to nightclubs and pubs can cause irreversible damage to our hearing

You can take steps to protect your hearing by using ear plugs or muffs and by reducing the length of time you listen to very loud sounds.

What kind of earplugs will protect my hearing?

Earplugs and earmuffs can protect your ears from loud noise by reducing the level of sound reaching your ears. Earplugs are probably best for long-term use, but if noise levels are high, you will need to wear high-attenuation earmuffs.

Make sure that the earplugs are designed for hearing protection. Many earplugs sold by pharmacies and sports shops are designed to prevent water from getting into the ears when swimming or to reduce background noise, and do not protect effectively against damaging levels of noise.

Ordinary cotton wool is a very bad noise protector and is not recommended for this purpose.

For better comfort and fit earplugs can be custom-made and use a mould of your ear canal. Because of the better fit they will lessen noise more effectively and may last for several years so can be cheaper than disposable earplugs for regular, long-term use.

  • Custom made earplugs – are made by taking the shape of your ears. These tend to reduce the overall noise level by up to 30dB and are not generally for use in extreme noise.

  • Musicians’ earplugs – have acoustic filters to reduce noise at specific pitches by required amounts, so music is heard at normal but safe levels. This means that the earplugs protect from the damaging effects of loud sounds, but preserve the sound quality.

  • Shooters’ earplugs – You can get earplugs that protect from sudden explosive noises such as gunshots. These allow normal hearing at non-harmful levels, but attenuate all high-intensity sounds to a safe level.

  • Earmuffs – Earmuffs, or ear defenders, look like large headphones and can be used in conjunction with earplugs for maximum protection.

Where can I buy ear protectors?

You can buy some ear protectors from some pharmacies. However, these tend to be suitable for light use at home, and will not provide complete protection against damaging levels of noise. For this you need more specialist earplugs and earmuffs, which are sold by DIY stores and by shops listed under Gunsmiths, Safety Equipment and Industrial Protective Clothing.

Here at Audiology – Hearing Care, we can custom make you earplugs for a number of uses and different degrees of noise protection:

  • Custom earplug – these block the ear will allow some degree of noise reduction – best for low level domestic noise – prices from £26 per pair.

  • Custom solid noise plug – can provide good level of protection from sound – prices from £59.07 per pair.

  • Custom filtered noise plug – these have small filters through the mould which permits some conversational sound. The filters can be adapted to attenuate different frequencies – prices from £85.39 per pair.

  • Actively attenuating ear plugs for shooting from – £443.55 per pair.

  • Musicians earplug – differing attenuations depending on the prevalent levels of sound without losing or affecting the quality of sound – prices from £169.54 per pair.

(Prices liable to change – prices correct at time of publication May 2015)

What can I do about permanent noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus?

It is almost always worth trying hearing aids if you have hearing loss that affects your quality of life. They could improve your hearing in a range of everyday situations, make conversations easier and reduce your awareness of any tinnitus helping you to tune it out.

See our pages on tinnitus/tearing therapy and hearing aids for more useful information.

FAQs

How do I know if I have a hearing loss?

If you feel you are having problems with your hearing then make an appointment to see your GP He or she may be able to treat your hearing loss or they may refer you to see an Audiologist for a hearing assessment

I feel my hearing is being affected by wax-how can I get the wax removed?

Please use olive oil drops every night for a week and then see your GP to request them to remove the wax. They will select the appropriate method of wax removal.

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