Posted by Heather Doggett on 15 February 2019

2 ears or not to hear……

  • There are 11 million people with hearing loss across the UK, that’s around one in six of us, rising to 15.6 million by 2035
  • An estimated 900,000 people in the UK have severe or profound hearing loss
  • More than 40% of people over 50 years old have hearing loss, rising to 71% of people over the age of 70
  • Around one in 10 UK adults has tinnitus

How is hearing damaged?

Inside the cochlea (our hearing organ that sits deep inside our ears), there are thousands of sound-sensing hair cells. These cells pick up sound waves and turn them into electrical signals that are sent to the brain and interpreted as sound. Experts agree that hair cells can start to become damaged by noise at 85dB and above.  When you’re exposed to too much loud noise, the hair cells become overstimulated. Once this happens, they become fatigued and stop responding to sound. This can result in temporary hearing loss that you may recognise as dulled hearing – it can last for minutes to days. Initially, after a break from loud noise, the hair cells recover. But with continued exposure to noise that is too loud, over time the hair cells may lose their ability to recover, and die. The hearing loss becomes noticeable – and it is permanent.

Noise exposure is one of the biggest causes of permanent hearing damage – and it is avoidable.

Noise is measured using the decibel (dB) scale.  85dB is the threshold level at which your hearing can become damaged over time.  It can be hard to judge how loud sounds are, but if you can’t talk to someone who’s about 2m (6ft) away without shouting because of background noise, it is likely that noise levels are dangerously high. Decibel reader apps are available to download and can be used as a rough guide.

The louder the noise is and the longer you are exposed to it, the higher the risk to your hearing

 Younger people are presenting with signs of noise induced hearing loss due to the amount of time spent using personal music devices and listening at high volume.  In my experience, children even report falling asleep listening to music at full volume – with little appreciation of the potential damage they are inflicting on their hearing.

As good practice, encourage:-

  • regular breaks of at least five minutes every hour to rest the ears
  • Use of a volume limiter on devices (if there is one)
  • Don’t go over the ‘safe’ volume level that appears on phone screens when changing the volume
  • Turn the volume down a notch
  • Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones


Tinnitus is ringing or other sounds in one or both ears or in the head that doesn’t have an external source.  The exact cause of tinnitus isn’t yet fully understood, but it can be linked to different things, including hearing loss.

Hearing loss is often gradual and as such you may not notice it at first, but ask yourself the following questions:-

  • Do you turn up the TV louder than your family wants it?
  • Do you find it hard to follow conversation in pubs and restaurants?
  • Do you struggle to hear on the phone?
  • Do you often ask people to repeat what they say?
  • Does your partner complain that you don’t listen to them?
  • Do you find others mumble?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions, consider seeing your GP or make an appointment to have a hearing test.  For further information visit https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/


Alison Lambert, Occupational Health Advisor