Is my noisy workplace dangerous?

 A series of articles by various writers on medical topics this one is by Edel Rooney.

I’ve begun a new job where there is a lot of background news. I’m concerned the ongoing exposure to this will damage my hearing in the long term. What are the risks?

Today, noise problems in the workplace can still cause deafness in developing countries, or in those without regulations. However, Europe, the USA and Australia have stringent rules about just how much noise workers can be exposed to so they are  protected from hearing damage.

Agreed regulations have set the danger level for noise at 85 decibels. Exposure to sound that is louder than this is known to cause permanent hearing damage. The louder the sound, the less time required to cause problems. Being close to a very loud explosion can instantly damage hearing. Health and Safety experts advise people should not be exposed to noise over 105 decibels for longer than two minutes at a time.

Temporary deafness is often experienced after leaving a noisy place. Although hearing recovers within a few hours, this condition should not be ignored as it is a sign that continued or regular exposure to such noise could gradually cause permanent damage.

Exposure to noise may also cause tinnitus, which is a sensation of noises (such as ringing or buzzing) in the ears. This can occur in combination with hearing loss. Rinnitus is surprisingly common, with around 18% of the population suffering from it at some stage in their lives. The condition can vary in severity and even though most people have a relatively mild form, it can have a big impact on their quality of life.

Aside from workplace noise, hearing impairment or discomfort can usually be avoided by employing a few basic hygiene guidelines and some common sense.

Few people probably realise that they are unintentionally damaging their hearing just by listening to an mp3 player or iPod through earphones at high volume. A recent study by scientists looking at emerging health risks in Europe concluded that using earphones and playing loud music every day for five years could cause permanent and irreversible hearing problems.

Damage to your ears caused by water can be avoided or minimised by remembering a few simple rules. Try to avoid unnecessary submersion under water such as when bathing, showering or swimming.

If you are a keen traveller, remember to suck a boiled sweet when tasking off or landing to help open the Eustachian tube in your ear, therefore helping to prevent the feeling of ‘popping’ and any associated discomfort. This can even prevent perforation of the eardrum as it tries to adjust to changes in pressure.

If you have had, or are currently suffering, from a head cold before flying, try taking some decongestant medication for a few days leading up to the flight as this will also help to clear and unblock the Eustachian tube.

It cannot be stressed enough that ears are, on the whole, self- cleaning and do not require any assistance in removing wax. It is old-fashioned practice to use a cotton bud, hair grip or any other device to clean the inside of your ears. Wax should be naturally excreted from your ears, but if you feel you have a build-up of wax, see your GP in order to have this officially diagnosed, treated and to determine any underlying cause for the build-up.

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