What is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)?

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the sudden or gradual loss of hearing due to exposure to loud sounds.

Loud noises can damage the hair cells in the inner ear and the hearing nerve. Hair cells are not replaceable and do not regrow. Damaged hair cells are unable to trigger electrical signals to the brain, impeding hearing. Prolonged exposure to excessive levels of noise (such as industrial machinery, heavy traffic or even loud music) can cause noise-induced hearing loss. One-time exposure to extremely loud sounds such as explosions or gunshots can cause immediate and irreversible hearing loss.

These loud sounds cause damage to the ear structures and delicate hair cells, which play a vital role in transmitting sound waves to the brain. The most common symptom of noise-induced hearing loss is a gradual onset of high-frequency hearing loss. The progressive nature of the damage - and the fact that it does not hurt - means many people do not notice anything is wrong until it is already quite severe.

Structure of the ear

What are the symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss?

Having trouble hearing is the main symptom of noise-induced hearing loss. If you have any of these signs or symptoms, you may have hearing loss caused by noise:

  • Trouble hearing soft or faint sounds
  • Normal conversation and other sounds may sound muffled or unclear
  • Ringing or buzzing in the ears (Tinnitus)
  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds (e.g. doorbell, telephone, alarm)
  • Hypersensitivity to certain sounds

Hearing loss is not inevitable

Contrary to popular belief, hearing loss is not inevitable. It can be prevented by identifying the exposure levels, reducing the risk of harmful noise at source or by wearing adequate and suitable hearing protection which has been backed up by support and training in the correct fitting and wearing.

What makes this workplace risk uniquely dangerous?

  • It is invisible and therefore, not always given the attention it deserves
  • Because hearing loss is progressive, it is harder to recognise
  • It is not widely known that hearing loss is irreversible
  • We adjust to noise - even excessive noise - which becomes the new norm
  • Hearing loss doesn't hurt
  • It is part of the aging process…… isn’t it?

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How much noise is too much noise?

It is essential to protect our ears from harmful levels of noise, but how do we know what is a “harmful level”? The maximum periods of time a person should be exposed to harmful noise per day without hearing protection can be surprising:

What is a safe amount of sound exposure?

Next steps

It is crucial that hearing protectors are fitted correctly and worn when they need to be otherwise we almost might as well not bother. This is where the importance of proper information, education and training is vital for wearers. uvex offers effective training packages which highlight the health benefits of protecting employees from hearing loss. Following a noise assessment, our professionals are available to guide you through the process of selecting the right hearing protection based on noise exposure levels and delivering training to ensure correct fitting for maximum protection and comfort. To find the right hearing protection for your workplace noise levels contact us using the quick form below:


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