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Effects of excessive noise

Exposure to noise in your work environment may cause a number of physiological and psychological responses.

Noise can:

  • cause hearing loss
  • annoy and interfere with speech
  • interfere with concentration and thought processes
  • disturb sleep
  • cause fatigue and aggression
  • reduce immune response
  • lead to heart disease.

How your body reacts

In response to excessive noise, your autonomic nervous system attempts to adjust body functions by increasing a person's heart rate, raising blood pressure and releasing the hormones adrenalin and cortisol.

However, prolonged high levels of adrenalin and cortisol under stressful working conditions may lead to more serious health effects, including:

  • raised blood pressure
  • accelerated heart rate
  • stress, which can lead to irritability and headaches
  • hypertension increasing the risk of strokes and heart attacks
  • reduced white blood cell count and immune response
  • gastric ulcers.

High noise levels

High levels of noise may initially cause dull hearing and ringing in the ears. Regular high level noise exposures will lead to loss of hearing and other adverse health effects.

Low noise levels

Low levels of noise can interfere with activities or concentration and causes similar stress and health effects as high level noise.

Types of hearing loss

Long-term hearing loss

Damage to your hearing generally occurs gradually over a number of years and may remain unnoticed.

Exposure to excessive noise is cumulative. If you have already been exposed to excessive noise at work and also expose yourself to noise during leisure activities, your chances of sustaining noise induced hearing loss are substantially increased.

Noise induced hearing loss is slow and painless, but permanent.

Immediate hearing loss

Your hearing can be damaged immediately by exposure to impulsive noise, including:

  • explosive powered nail guns
  • firearms
  • stamping presses
  • forges
  • industrial machinery.

The hair cells in the inner ear are destroyed by loud noise. Once they are destroyed they do not grow back.

Noise induced hearing loss

As we get older our ability to hear high pitched sounds deteriorates naturally but with exposure to too much noise the ability to hear high pitched sounds is greatly decreased. People with noise induced hearing loss often say that they can hear someone talking but cannot understand them as they can no longer hear the high pitched letters like F, S, T, K, C.

Noise induced hearing loss leads to communication problems. Relationships with loved ones, family, friends and work colleagues may also suffer.

Noise induced hearing loss may result in not being able to hear warning sounds (such as alarms or car horns) or workplace noises such as supervisors giving directions and could result in increased absenteeism and lower productivity.

Am I suffering from hearing loss?

Some indicators that your hearing may be at risk:

  • raising your voice in a noisy workplace when you are talking to someone about one metre away from you
  • your hearing sounds dull at the end of the working shift
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus) during or after work.