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Mind your hearing: Can traveling on the London Underground cause hearing loss?

london underground

The BBC recently discovered that certain parts of the London Underground can be as loud as a helicopter taking off nearby. Does this mean that commuters should be using hearing protection to combat possible noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus?

Over the course of a week, using noise meters supplied by the University College London, the BBC’s researchers recorded sound levels in Zones 1 and 2 of the London Underground.

Noise levels above 105 decibels were recorded on ten journeys in Zones 1 and 2. They found the loudest journey was between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green, with sound peaking at 109 decibels. Louder than a helicopter taking off nearby.

Can this much noise cause hearing loss?

According to the National Institute of Health, exposure to noise levels that are 100dB or greater means damage to your hearing could occur in as little as 15 minutes. Just one minute of exposure to noises between 110-140 decibels can result in a permanent hearing loss.

The Victoria Line service is the loudest on average. On other sections of the Tube, the noise equated to ‘being at a rock concert’.

Zones 1 and 2 have noise levels greater than 100 decibels. Anyone regularly traveling on any of the ten journeys in these zones could be affected by noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.

Dr. Joe Sollini, of UCL’s Ear Institute, who analyzed the BBC’s data said, “Hearing loss accumulates over our lifetime. If someone was on a noisy Tube line every day for long journeys, it is perfectly possible this could increase the risk of hearing loss and potentially tinnitus.”

Health and Safety legislation states that employers should provide ear protection for people exposed to average levels of 85dB over an eight-hour period. This means traveling on parts of the Northern and Jubilee lines are so loud they would require hearing protection if they were workplaces.

You might want to add earplugs to your commuter bag 

Protecting your hearing is important, even if your exposure to loud noises is limited.

Read more: This is how loud a typical day is

If you’ve been exposed to loud noises and you’re wondering if your hearing has been damaged, see a hearing care professional as soon as possible. Find a hearing care professional near you.

BBC One’s investigative programme, Inside Out London, exploring noise issues on parts of the London Underground was screened at 7.30pm on Monday 29th January 2018 and can be viewed via BBC iPlayer

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Angie Aspinall
Phonak hEARo, Angie is a freelance journalist, copywriter, website designer and social media consultant. (www.aspinallink.co.uk) She lives in Scotland with her husband Richard, and their Westie, Tilly. Angie was diagnosed with Otosclerosis in her right ear at the age of 30. In 2011, she suffered sudden profound hearing loss in her left ear. She now uses a Phonak CROS II with a Phonak Audéo V hearing aid. You can follow Angie's international discussion group #HearingLossHour on Twitter @hearinglosshour.

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