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Acoustic Trauma

Last updated: December 22, 2019

What Does Acoustic Trauma Mean?

Acoustic trauma is an acute type of inner-ear injury that often occurs due to exposure to high noise levels. It can occur from prolonged exposure to remitting loud noises or due to short-term exposure to a very loud noise.

It may also occur if physical damage to the ear results in a rupturing of the eardrum, which protects the middle and inner ear. Acoustic trauma causes hearing loss, typically resulting from damage to hair cells that are responsible for transmitting information to nerve cells. Trauma may also cause damage to ear structures such as the cochlea. In addition to hearing loss, symptoms of acoustic trauma also include tinnitus.

Safeopedia Explains Acoustic Trauma

Acoustic trauma can be thought of as a trauma that occurs due to an “overdose” of sound. It can occur in any environment in which there is a sufficient amount of noise to do damage via a single or repeated exposure.

In contrast, when hearing loss occurs due to prolonged exposure to noise that is not loud enough to cause trauma, it is referred to as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Approximately 16 to 24 percent of adult disabling hearing loss worldwide is caused by occupational noise exposure. The rate is lower in advanced countries, where its incidence is declining.

Acoustic trauma is heavily associated with work in occupational contexts that involves high-noise environments, such as many types of industrial work. It is also common among those who serve in the military.

OSHA considers it to be a normal form of workplace injury. An employee suspected of suffering an acoustic trauma must be provided with audiometric testing. If the injury is confirmed, it must then be recorded in the workplace’s OSHA 300 injury log. Employers in environments where occupational noise exposure above 85dB (averaged over eight hours) occurs as a regular part of the job must also provide workers with suitable protective equipment, and they must engage in additional safety activity as part of a hearing conservation program.

The regulatory requirements for noise protection programs vary between jurisdictions; however, most occupational health and safety regulations prescribe protection for noise within the 85dB and 90dB range. The effectiveness of hearing protection programs has been found to be limited by low rates of workplace compliance with requirements to provide or wear hearing protective equipment.


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