Classroom Noise and Its Effects on Teacher’s Hearing Health
Teaching Related Hearing Loss
Education professionals know how loud a classroom can be, but did you know that the average noise levels in a classroom exceed the recommended maximum level of 85dB? This can be damaging to a teacher’s ears over the course of a workday and in some cases can kickstart a noise induced hearing loss. As a result of their work environment, teachers often complain of voice loss (competing with the classroom noise), tinnitus, fatigue, stress, headaches, and anxiety.
There have been hearing studies done over the years and the findings are quite surprising. Teachers report hearing problems at a higher rate than any other field. Furthermore, more than a quarter of teachers suspect they have a hearing problem, sadly many will not address the issue.
Occupational Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Within the inner ears there are tiny hair cells called stereocilia. These cells are responsible for converting soundwaves into electrical energy which travels via the auditory nerve to the brain to be interpreted as sound. As dangerous sound levels travel through the ears, it can damage and destroy these hair cells. Once they are damaged, they will not recover.
With Noise Induced Hearing Loss, the hearing loss is gradual and develops over time. It is due to continuous or intermittent noise exposure. Most occupations at risk for NIHL offer some sort of hearing protection. Unfortunately, teachers are unable to use earplugs as it would be very difficult to communicate with students.
How Do I Know I Have NIHL?
- DIFFICULTY UNDERSTANDING CONVERSATIONS IN THE CLASSROOM (other noisy places)
- Unable to hear high pitch sounds like birds or alarm clocks.
- You ask people to repeat themselves, speak up or more slowly.
- Speech and other sounds are muffled.
- Ringing In the Ears (Tinnitus)
- Struggle to distinguish speech consonant (“sh” and “th”, “s” and “f”, or “p” and “t” )
- Turning up the volume when watching television or when listening to music.
Impact of Hearing Loss in the Classroom
Whether the hearing loss is contributed to the classroom noise itself, or some other source, teachers suffering from hearing loss face challenges most others do not. It’s one thing to struggle to hear a conversation in a noisy place like a restaurant. It’s another when your job requires excellent communication in a loud environment – to be able to hear students clearly or to understand if they are grasping a new subject. This is difficult to do when the environment is either causing hearing loss or worsening a loss they may not know they have.
What can you do?
Book a Hearing Test
Early identification and prevention before permanent damage is done can prevent NIHL. If there is some hearing loss, a practitioner can fit you with a hearing device to prevent further decline.
Invest in musician earplugs– This type of ear plug is special, because they allow safe sounds through naturally while dampening unsafe sound levels.
Reduce the acoustics in the classroom– Classrooms are filled with hard surfaces that contribute to the overall classroom noise. Adding softer surfaces like rugs, carpets, curtains, felt boards or cork boards to the classroom environment, will help lower classroom noise levels that lead to hearing loss.
Classrooms can be a noisy, but rewarding place to work. It is important though, that teachers recognize that this shouldn’t be the norm in education. Noise has negative effects on the teaching-learning process, but more importantly it has adverse effects on the very people responsible for our child’s learning. The ones inspiring curiosity and bringing knowledge and order to the classroom. By taking care of your own hearing needs, and improving the classroom noise itself, teachers can be the amazing communicator we are all so incredibly grateful for.
Call our office if you have any questions about your hearing loss or anything else related to hearing. We are happy to help and answer any questions you may have.