Health Effects of Noise. Ill Health.

Health effects of noise. Ill health. Moving on from the previous article on Health Effects of Noise, it would probably be helpful to discuss the effects of stress and anxiety as well as physical Ill Health caused by noise in the workplace.

There are 3-distinct section to the human ear starting with the external ear (outer ear), the middle ear and the internal ear.

Health effects of noise. Ill health

Hearing is based upon sound pressure waves being captured and funneled by the outer ear down towards the middle ear.  The pressure waves then strike the drum which is positioned approximately 25mm inside the head.

Set inside the middle ear is a delicate array of 3 small bones which transfer the vibration from the drum to the inner ear (or cochlea).

The cochlea contains a fluid that in turn creates movement in a membrane causing connected hair cells to bend.

The bending of these hair cells create a tiny electrical impulse which is transmitted to the brain along the auditory nerve which the brain then scrambles into the sensation we know as sound.

There are about 30,000 or so of these hair cells, and damage to them causes irreversible hearing loss.

Health effects of noise. Ill health. The human hearing system is easily damaged by noise

Ill Health Effects of Noise

Ear damage can have two classifications. Acute effects and Chronic effects.


Acute damage can be classed as temporary where some sort of regain will occur, while chronic is generally classed as irreversible.

In addition, there are 3 classifications of both acute and chronic effects.

Temporary threshold shift

This can be caused by short excessive exposure to noise and creates a disturbance within the inner ear by reducing the impulses sent to the brain. This results in a slight deafness, but is reversed when the noise subsides.

Acute acoustic trauma

This can be caused by extreme sudden noises such as gunshot or explosion. It affects the ear drum and tiny bones in the inner ear, and again usually reverses itself after a period of time. (Although sudden loud noises can also cause permanent damage).


Usually caused by an intense noise over a period of time over stimulating the tiny hair cells created a perceived ringing noise in the ear. Often it subsides over 24 hours, but it can become a lifelong debilitating condition.


There are also 3 classifications of chronic effects of hearing loss.

Permanent threshold shift

This condition is in response to the permanently unprotected or insufficiently protected loud sustained noise levels. The damage created is the irreversible reduction in nerve impulses sent to the brain which leads to the inability to hear at certain frequency levels, typically 4000hz.

Noise Induced hearing loss

Although not total deafness, the ability to hear clearly is significantly reduced due to irreversible damage to the hair cells within the cochlear.

Chronic Tinnitus

This chronic condition is the same as the acute Tinnitus but permanent and very unpleasant, often leading to mental health instability and conditions such as depression or even suicide.

It’s also important to remember that repeated uncontrolled exposure can lead to gradual hearing loss that often goes unnoticed into older age. This is often classified as Presbycusis, or deafness in old age which could have been completely avoidable if appropriate ear protection had been worn at an earlier stage, or sufficient measures were put in place by the employer.

Anxiety caused by noise in the workplace

Further to the physical effects of hearing damage caused by noise in the workplace, we need to consider the psychological effects of persistent background noise or the type of sudden noise that’s unexpected and makes you jump, such as the screech of a chopsaw or the banging of machinery.

Being exposed to this sort of noise continually can lead to work related stress and anxiety.

Even in an office situation there may be the low drone of airconditioning or cooling fans (sometimes know as white noise) which can play a very subtle but dramatic part in affecting a person’s mental or anxious state.

Legally, the employer has a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations to assess the risks of stress and anxiety caused by noise or anything else in the workplace and put into place measures that control those risks.

And last but not least

We all have a role to play in effective health and safety, and for those actively involved in promoting safe working practices it can be a rewarding, interesting and varied role.

Please visit this site often where you will find a growing number of articles, resources, advice and opinion.

Whether you are a seasoned health and safety professional, or just getting started, we value your opinions and input so please feel free to comment on any of the posts.

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Watch the video on the way that sound affects us

24 thoughts on “Health Effects of Noise. Ill Health.”

    • Yes, me too. Thankfully times are changing for the better.

      So many people just don’t realize how damaged hearing and poor health are linked.

      Thanks for the input

  1. Hello and thank you for this informative article. I never used to pay too much atention to the noise or the effect it could have on our health. I was blessed, because my workplace never included any kind of noise that could truly damage the health. 

    Nevertheless, I used to listen really loud music and I still do it up to now. I know it is not right and should not be done but I still do it. As of recently, I noticed that my hearing was damaged so I gave it a pause. 

    This article scared me, to be honest with you. After reading all of this I will be messing up again.

    Thank you,


    • Hello Strahinja,
      Thank you for your input and getting involved.
      Yes, you need to limit the time you listen to music loudly.
      Once the hairs inside the ears are damaged, then they never recover.
      Please don’t stop listening to music but be aware of the volume you are subjecting your ears to, and the length of time.
      Thank you.

  2. Hey Admin, I liked your post. I feel like I learned so much; I didn’t know that noise can cause ill-health outside of loss of hearing if serious enough. Also, I didn’t know that things like Temporary Threshold Shift and other things that are affected by noise. I have a question for you, what would you recommend for someone who always around people who play loud music consistently? Your post was awesome and I think schools everywhere could benefit from it. Great job!

    • Hey RJ.
      Thanks for reading and getting involved.

      To answer your question, if the noise exposure is prolonged and above 80db which I’m sure it will be, then you definitely need to think about protecting your hearing.

      Ear defenders have come a long way from the type that used to just muffle the sound. All you ended up doing was pulling them away from your ear when somebody tried to speak to you, which sort of defeated the object!

      These days you can buy attenuating ear defenders which electronically reduce the background noise to a safe level while at the same time allow you to have a crystal clear conversation with somebody in front of you.

      And as a bonus, some of them look pretty cool…



  3. I have worked with hearing loss for a number of years,I actually suffer from hearing loss myself as well as at times unbearable tinnitus.When I think back on my working life I try to pinpoint the exact cause of my hearing loss or precisely when it started. During my late twenties I worked in a number of factories on a production line, thinking back on it the noise levels were very high, that was back in the seventies and we didn’t have proper ear protection. In hindsight I feel that my hearing loss was caused by too much exposure to loud noise and later in life you pay the price for that.So my advice is if you are working in a noisy work environment or you go shooting as a pastime please make sure to wear proper ear protection.

    • Hi Fintan,
      Yes I thoroughly agree with everything you mention.

      Unfortunately, people working in factories, construction and industry during the 50’s, 60’s, 70’etc were exposed to lengthy and loud noise with little or ineffective hearing protection.

      It’s the continual exposure over time that causes the damage to the tiny receptive hairs inside the ear canal, and regrettably they never recover.

      Thankfully for later generations times have changed, although there are still many places throughout the world who believe that workplace injuries and illness are an acceptable price to pay for having a job.

      Best wishes.


  4. Very informative. I could share this to friend who’s husband works on construction. 

    I have a habit of using earphones when listening to music while I do my work. Will it somehow affect my hearing as well, later on? 

    Reading your article, made think that I should take care of my ears form now on. Thank you for putting all this together.

    • Hi Mina,
      Yes you should consider your hearing as precious. Once those tiny little receptive hairs in the ear canal are damaged then they will never recover or grow back.

      There’s nothing wrong with wearing earphones as such, plenty of people do, but it’s the length of exposure and the volume of the music you need to be aware of.

      Unfortunately we become conditioned to sound at a certain volume and then have a temptation to turn it up. Without realising, it then becomes really loud.

      You just need to be aware of the volume and give your ears plenty of time to recover (so limit the time you use earphones)

      Thanks for taking part in the discussion.

  5. Very interesting topic…

    I worked in a papermill when I was young, right out of High School, and for the first year or so, I was just ‘too cool’ to wear ear protection!  Stupid, youthful decision, luckily the mill made ear protection mandatory and the mill managers enforced it diligently. Otherwise, not sure how long I would have remained so ignorant and potentially damaged my hearing permanently. 

    Thanks for writing this! 

    • Hi Brad,
      Yes I discussed this with another respondent. When I started work it was considered manly not to wear PPE including hearing protection.
      How stupid were we? But then again it was peer pressure.
      Thankfully times have changed.

  6. Thanks for pointing out the difference between acute and chronic ear damage! Lots of people of my generation seem to have some form of tinnitus, even I have this issue. In my case, it does not disturb me as I don’t really notice it, unless it is very quiet, like when I’m laying in bed.

    • Hi Jurgen,
      Yes, I too have something similar.
      Unfortunately when I started work it was considered manly not to wear PPE, including hearing protection.
      Thankfully times have changed and so have people’s expectations of what they are prepared to put up with in the work situation.
      Thanks for the discussion.

  7. Thanks for that helpful article,

    Unfortunately, I’m suffering from acute acoustic trauma on my left ear, at my childhood I was exposed to an extreme sudden explosion, and since then it only gets worst.

    My doctor advised me to put earplugs when I’m attending to concerts or loud music shows.

    • Hello Shai,
      I’m very sad to learn about your hearing trauma.
      You need to preserve what is left of your hearing for as long as possible.
      I agree with your doctor the wear hearing protection during loud noise. Or better still, avoid it where possible.
      Thank you for taking part in the discussion and good luck.

  8. I am afraid, I may suffer from ear problem in the long run, but currently, I have no solution. I work in a welding factory and from 8-16 hrs everyday I am subjected to noise. I totally don’t want noise, but that’s work. What can I do? Currently I don’t have any problem with my ears though, but am afraid in future it may affect me. 

    • Hello Ngonidzashe.
      Yes, welding factories are noisy places. I am the health and safety advisor in a factory where they also do some welding.
      In the UK we have an acceptable noise level up to 80db. Sometimes the situation might go temporarily over that which is fine.
      What is not good though is when the noise level is constantly over 80db. That is when hearing damage can start to occur.
      If possible, and first of all you need to try to get your employer to find out what the constant noise level is in the factory.
      If it is over 80db the majority of the time then you know you need some ear protection, even if you provide it yourself.
      Good luck, I know it is not always easy.


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