Hearing Protection

Ian Paterson, Vice President, Tinnitus Association of Victoria..

The aging process causes a natural hearing decline in almost everyone, particularly those living in a westernised society with its many sounds that are heard each day such as machinery, cars, television etc.

This decline in our ability to clearly hear affects mainly high pitched sounds such as children's voices, rustling leaves and some musical instruments.

Although 'age effect' hearing loss up through the age of 60 does not usually impair one's ability to hear and understand speech, problems occur when noise induced loss is added to the age loss. With noise damage, even a thirty year old can have trouble listening when background sound is present, such as in restaurants or crowded social environments.

You do not 'get used to noise'

Noise does not have to be uncomfortably loud to be damaging. You may even think that after working or living with a certain level of sound, your ears are 'used to it', but what has happened is that hearing loss has already begun. How quickly hearing loss takes place depends on the intensity of the noise, its duration and how often the exposure occurs.

When you need to shout to be heard when you are one meter away, the noise levels are probably above 85dBA and hearing protection is recommended.

Noise damage indicators

If sounds seem muffled or softer after noise exposure, your hearing has been affected by a temporary threshold shift, which warns that your hearing has been overexposed. If you repeatedly do this without protection, the shift can become permanent and untreatable.

For those of us with tinnitus, even temporary exposure to loud sounds can be the equivalent of 'sunburn of the hairs in the cochlear'. This means that your tinnitus will be elevated either for a short time (minutes to weeks) or result in a permanent elevation of your tinnitus level. It is critical that you protect your hearing whenever you are doing anything that exposes your ears to any sound louder than a domestic vacuum cleaner.

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