Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: Treatment Options and Recommendations

Question: I am a bartender at a loud club. Even though I am constantly asking the DJs to turn down the music, we have an old sound system that is not that sensitive to small adjustments, and it is a club after all and people like it loud. Not only do I have trouble hearing people ordering drinks, but I feel that working there has permanently and detrimentally affected my hearing. I wanted to see about getting earplugs that would block out the most harmful frequencies while still allowing me to hear patrons’ orders over the bar. I believe I have noise-induced hearing loss. Do you have any recommendations? Is this something insurance would cover? If not, how much would this service cost? Thank you so much! –

Answer: Noise can definitely affect the hearing.  When you have a ringing in the ears after noise exposure, that is a sign of damage to the hearing nerve.  Prolonged loud exposure- or even a single loud blast- can cause permanent noise-induced hearing loss.  The government regulations (OSHA) limits noise to 85 dB over an 8 hour period-  but even that has been shown to cause losses.

Certain things can be done- relatively easily- even at most clubs.   We used to see musicians with horrible hearing losses.  They typically placed the amps behind them-  Today we know that the amps should be placed stage forward, and the musicians can use either small monitors- or in the ear systems to hear themselves.

Clearly, this is not what is going on at your bar-  However,  changing the placement of the speakers, so that they are away from the bar, or lowering the sound on speakers near the bar can help.  Placing a small baffle (soundproof divider) can also significantly lower the noise exposure.

Alternatively,  you can have earplugs made professionally, to help.   They are molded to your ear canals and can help lower the noise level significantly.   They should help further by lessening the high pitches more than the sounds used for speech.  Hopefully, they will not interfere significantly with your hearing for speech.

You should probably have your hearing monitored, to make sure you are not developing a significant hearing loss from your job.

We make noise attenuating earplugs at the NY Hearing Center.  These are usually not covered by insurance- (?- not sure why) and can run about $200 or so.

I hope this clears things up.

Robert Pincus MD