The most common preventable cause of deafness in this country is noise-induced hearing loss, writes Benson Riddle
If you have good hearing now it is important
to preserve it, because once hearing is
damaged, it often cannot be restored.
Sound is picked up by a small, spiral-
shaped organ called the cochlea that is lo
cated within the inner ear. Thousands of tiny
hairs in the cochlea sense the vibration and
pass the message to the brain via the
cochlear nerve, but these sensitive hairs can
be damaged by excessive noise. The scar
tissue that results from this damage cannot
However you generally get no warning, be
cause a sound has to be particularly loud to
produce any pain, so the inner ear can still be
harmed by noise even when it doesn't send
you a pain signal. So if you are continually ex
posed to loud noise (90 decibels or above) it
can produce permanent damage to the cochlea
without any sharp pain to warn you. A rule of
thumb is if you need to shout to be heard over
the noise, it is potentially damaging.
It is important to realise that hearing loss
is more than just an inconvenience as you get
older, and for everyone to try to avoid loud
noise as much as possible. Loud bangs tend
to be even more damaging than continuous noise, particularly when they occur with no
warning, which is most often the case. As
with sun exposure and skin damage, the
amount of hearing damage is related to the
intensity of the noise and the length of time
you are exposed to it.
Here are a few simple things you can do to
protect your hearing:
1. Avoid exposure to noise when you can, and
do not deliberately subject yourself to very
high sound levels such as noisy machinery
or loud concerts.
2. Personal stereos can be damaging if they
are too loud. A good way to tell if the vol
ume is too loud is to check if you can hear
what’s going on around you. If you cannot
hear a person near you speaking at a nor
mal level, or if your music is loud enough
for others to hear, then it’s time to turn
down the volume.
3. For musicians, who are particularly at risk,
wear special earplugs.
4. Consult with your OH&S officer at work if
you are concerned about noise levels in
the workplace. Remember, it is an em
ployer’s responsibility to provide a safe
5. If you do work with machinery, make sure
you wear the appropriate hearing protection
at all times.
6. If you cannot avoid loud sound, then you
should protect your ears with earplugs or ear
muffs. Balls of cottonwool or paper tissue
offer little protection.
7. Give your ears frequent rest from noise.
8. Remember that everyday equipment,
such as lawnmowers and power tools,
may be loud enough to be damaging your ears.
9. Get your hearing tested regularly and if you
are at all concerned about your hearing,
speak to your doctor for advice.
Dr Benson Riddle, head of department, Peak Health Medical Services. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.peakhealth.com.au