While hearing loss can occur after just one sudden extremely loud noise, like a gun shot, it more often occurs with gradual noise exposure. Regular hearing tests can help to identify any changes in hearing sensitivity and can signal employers to help employees take steps to prevent further hearing loss.
Individuals may not notice the effects of hearing loss due to frequent daily exposure to loud sounds until they become more pronounced. With continued exposure, the damage can cause hearing loss severe enough to affect quality of life and thus warrant hearing aids or other forms of amplification.
In the US, any noise above 90 dB by which an individual is exposed for over 8-hours is considered dangerous. Worldwide, 600 million individuals are exposed to this level of noise during their workday. Exposure for 8 hours, however, is not necessary for damage related to noise to occur. In a basic sense, the louder the sound is, the less time it takes for permanent hearing damage to occur.
In loud work environments, like a construction site, noise levels often exceed the 90 dB mark. This makes frequent monitoring of hearing imperative to employee health. Noise-induced hearing loss can present as a permanent threshold shift, meaning permanent hearing loss, or a temporary threshold shift, meaning hearing loss after noise exposure that recovers after a short period of time.
Although a “temporary” threshold shift may seem benign as hearing thresholds recover to “normal” or whatever that individual’s hearing acuity was prior to the noise exposure, the damage can still be long-lasting. While hearing acuity to pure tones may recover, individuals may experience long-lasting tinnitus or even difficulty hearing in background noise in the absence of hearing loss.
Without monitoring hearing thresholds regularly, and especially after exposure to an extremely loud noise, an individual in the above-described scenario may not know a temporary threshold shift occurred. Should they have any lasting effects like tinnitus or difficulty hearing in background noise, these symptoms may seem like they came from out of nowhere.