Noise can be dangerous. If it is loud enough and lasts long enough, it can damage your hearing. The damage caused by noise, called sensorineural hearing loss or nerve deafness, can be caused by several factors other than noise, but noise-induced hearing loss is different in one important way, it can be reduced or prevented altogether.
When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the nerve endings in the inner ear. As the exposure time to loud noise increases, more and more nerve endings are destroyed. As the number of nerve endings decreases, so does your hearing. There is no way to restore life to dead nerve endings; the damage is permanent.
A ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, commonly occurs after noise exposure, and it often becomes permanent. Some people react to loud noise with anxiety and irritability, an increase in pulse rate and blood pressure, or an increase in stomach acid. Very loud noise can reduce efficiency in performing difficult tasks by diverting attention from the job.
If you must work in an excessively noisy environment, you should wear protectors. You should also wear them when using power tools, noisy yard equipment, or firearms, or riding a motorcycle or snowmobile.
Earplugs are small inserts that fit into the outer ear canal. They must be snugly sealed so the entire circumference of the ear canal is blocked. An improperly fitted, dirty or worn-out plug may not seal and can irritate the ear canal. They are available in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit individual ear canals and can be custom made. For people who have trouble keeping them in their ears, they can be fitted to a headband. Earmuffs fit over the entire outer ear to form an air seal so the entire circumference of the ear canal is blocked, and they are held in place by an adjustable band.
Earmuffs will not seal around eyeglasses or long hair, and the adjustable headband tension must be sufficient to hold earmuffs firmly around the ear. Properly fitted earplugs or muffs reduce noise 15 to 30 dB. The better earplugs and muffs are approximately equal in sound reductions, although earplugs are better for low frequency noise and earmuffs for high frequency noise.