Listen Up!

By Mike Costigan

We spend so much time and attention protecting our eyes, that sometimes our hearing gets overlooked. Ask anyone who has experienced prolonged exposure to loud noises who chose not to wear any hearing protection, and they’ll tell you some of the issues they now live with.

In 1998, NIOSH recommended to OSHA to extend noise regulations to the construction industry. The permissible exposure limit [PEL] is 85dB, however, in most cases, the noise on a construction site is much higher. Being exposed to loud noise for a prolonged period can overwork the hair cells, Cilia, in the ear causing the cells to become damaged or die.

Think of the hair cells in your ears as wet grass that bends over when exposed to loud noises. If the noise is short term, the cells will begin to recover and stand up again. But if the noise is a constant or a day-to-day occurrence, the cells never get an opportunity to heal. In fact, by the time you notice any hearing loss, many hair cells have been destroyed and cannot be repaired.

Tinnitus is also a result of loud noises. Tinnitus can be acute or chronic. Usually for a short period of excessive exposure to noise like a concert or motorcycle riding, you may experience an acute reaction which will typically subside in a day or two.

But a lifestyle of continuous day to day exposure could result in a chronic condition and result in permanent hearing loss. 25% of people ages 20 to 69 have some sort of induced hearing loss. There is treatment for Tinnitus if the cells have not been permanently damaged.

I always recommend that members consult an audiologist for the best course of action.

Of course, prevention is the best way to protect your hearing. Implementation of the hierarchy of controls has PPE as the last resort. PPE will come primarily in the form of ear plugs or earmuffs but removing yourself from the source is always the best practice.

In short, don’t take your hearing for granted. It deserves to be protected, as do all your senses.

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