Noise is an unwanted or harmful sound. We all have different sensitivity levels to noise, but it can become damaging as intensity and/or duration increase. The longer you are exposed to a loud noise and/or the closer you are to it, the higher the risk is of damage; this damage can be immediate or progressive over time. Whether the hearing loss is caused by one exposure or over a period of time, it can be permanent and it is often accompanied by a ringing sensation, called tinnitus, which often is also permanent.
Aside from loss of hearing and tinnitus, noise can also cause other detrimental health effects such as stress, hypersensitivity to noise, disruption to sleep/increased fatigue, disturbed digestion, increased blood pressure and increased heart rate. It can interfere with communication, which could lead to accidents. Anyone can be exposed to excessive noise levels. The harmful effects of noise are cumulative and not necessarily confined to one environment.
Occupational Noise Exposure
Those working in noisy environments, such as factories, foundries, construction and airports as well as those working with power tools and machinery are among those most at risk. Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational injuries, resulting in health problems for many workers and it presents a significant social and economic cost to the United States. The human cost is also high. This includes lost jobs, increased absenteeism, reduced performance, lost opportunities for promotion or other employment and impaired family and social relationships. In addition, if your hearing is damaged, the loss of communication could cause a workplace accident.
The harmful effects of noise exposures add up, so you need to watch your noise exposure outside the workplace as well. You should wear hearing protectors if you are doing any noisy work at home such as using power tools and lawn equipment, or doing any recreationally noisy activities such as shooting or riding a motorcycle. Even if you are exposed to excessive noise for short periods of time it is important to protect your hearing. Even a few seconds of a high intensity sound, such as a single gun shot, can do permanent damage to your hearing.
Sudden very loud sounds, such as a gun shot, can cause irreversible damage to the ear. Almost all firearms create noise that is over 140 dBSPL—a small .22-caliber rifle can produce a noise around 140 dB while a big-bore rifle or pistol may produce a sound over 175 dB. Those who do not wear hearing protection while shooting can suffer a severe hearing loss with as little as one shot.
Musicians, concert-goers, and other music enthusiasts are also at risk for damage to the auditory system from noise/music exposure. It can be especially damaging when the music reaches levels above 85 dBSPL; a rock concert can generate around 100dBSPL to 120dBSPL. You have increased risk of hearing damage from music if you are a musician, sound crew member, or recording engineer, or work in a facility that routinely has live music.