Aside from the dangers of sharp scissors and hot hair tools, hairdressing may seem like a fairly low-risk job. However, what many hairdressers don't know is that their position puts them at risk of hearing loss. There are two main hearing hazards in any hair salon: hair dryers and chemicals. Here's how they can hurt your hearing, how you can protect your ears from them, and how you can restore your hearing if it's already suffering.
Hair Dryer Noise
It may be hard to believe that a sound as common as a hair dryer could give you hearing loss. Some even find the sound soothing to listen to. But the truth is that any loud noise can harm your hearing, and hair dryers are no exception. Repeated exposure to a noise level above 85 decibels causes irreparable damage to cells in the ear; hair dryers can produce a noise level of up to 90 decibels.
While the risk is low for customers who only hear the noise for a few hours a week at most, hairdressers exposed to the sound constantly could find their hearing rapidly declining. Wearing protective headphones isn't particularly feasible in a salon, so the best solution is to switch to a quieter hair dryer model. Look for one that produces a sound level of less than 75 decibels, as this is unlikely to cause hearing loss even over a long period of exposure. Low-noise dryers might be more expensive to invest in, but your ears will thank you later.
Hair Treatment Chemicals
The other main cause of hearing loss amongst hairdressers is long-term exposure to dangerous chemicals found in some hair treatments and colourants. Potassium bromate and sodium bromate are two of the biggest culprits of hearing loss, alongside another chemical called thioglycolate. These substances can be found in products used for straight and curly perms. While curly perms are less common in recent years, hairdressers who do a lot of 'relaxer' treatments on afro-textured hair could be at risk.
In most cases, these chemicals cause hearing loss after being ingested. However, studies indicate that long-term exposure to these substances can also damage the ear. In one research project, vestibular (inner ear) damage was found in hairdressers who'd been using a hair curling solution with potassium bromate and thioglycolate for 10 to 30 years. The ideal way to avoid such damage is to avoid products that contain these ingredients and offer more natural treatments in your salon. If you must use ototoxic hair products, try to limit your exposure by wearing gloves, and never let any hair product come into contact with your mouth.
What If You Already Have Hearing Loss?
If you're concerned that you already have hearing loss, make an appointment with an audiologist or ENT doctor. They'll be able to identify any hearing problems you may have and provide you with hearing aids. Hearing aids are a great way to restore diminished hearing and improve your quality of life so you can continue enjoying your job as a hairdresser.