Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss      

Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss      

There are many causes of hearing loss, and one of the main causes of hearing loss is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

One of the most common types of hearing loss behind age-related hearing loss, it usually manifests itself through either prolonged or sudden exposure to dangerous levels of noise. So, this can be either many years of noise exposure from a daily dose of loud music, or it can be a single dose of noise from a firearm or explosion.

The condition is caused by permanent damage to the ear hair cells which live in the inner ear. As with most types of sensorineural hearing loss, it cannot be repaired by surgical or medicinal means. Exposure to dangerous noise usually leads to ringing in the ears for a period of time, but we often recover from this. However, repeated exposure to noise over a long time can lead to a permanent loss of hearing if you don’t use hearing protection.

Sounds which cause Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

The loudness of a sound is measured units called decibels (dB). To give you an idea of how loud everyday noises are, a normal conversation is approximately 60 dB, your lawnmower is around 90 dB, and a pumping rock or pop concert is around 120 dB. Anything above 85 dB is usually damaging, depending on how long you are exposed and if you are wearing hearing protection, like earplugs or earmuffs. The higher the decibel rating, the less time you can be exposed to the noise before your ears are damaged.

NIHL can be caused by all sorts of sounds. While there are plenty of occupations which may carry dangerous sound levels, many people don’t realize there are a number of noises which we encounter doing our leisure time that are also potentially harmful.

You can damage your hearing if you are at the shooting range and have no hearing protection using firearms because those sounds can be as high as 150 dB. Other leisure activities damaging to ear health include water sports, playing music and riding a motorcycle. Let’s not forget home improvements and maintenance – machines like leaf blowers can be as loud as 100-110 dB.

Other places you need to be wary of are sports events, outdoor and indoor concerts and any situations involving large groups of people and someone speaking into a microphone hooked up to a PA system. Locate the speakers and stay well clear of them!

How to know you’ve been affected by noise

You will experience a high-frequency reduction in your hearing, which means you won’t be able to hear the sounds as well as others. This makes it hard to hear the voices of women and children. If noise exposure continues, the damage progresses to the other frequencies. This makes it very difficult to follow conversations with friends in noisy places.

Sadly, all of us are at risk for NIHL. Everybody who works in a loud industry, such as construction, production or farming, is at risk of hearing loss. But even those who live in the center of town can also be worn down by the constant noise. Seniors often suffer hearing loss due to noise from years of working in unregulated industries without adequate hearing protection.

How to protect yourself

There are steps you can take to avoid the worst effects of noise. The first step is being aware of the sounds around you that can damage your hearing.  There are plenty of smartphone apps that can measure the sound around you, and even alert you when sound gets above 85dB. When you reach a noisy area, it’s time to wear your hearing protection. ⠀

Another thing to do is to get an annual hearing evaluation. These tests can set a baseline to help your hearing professional track the development of any hearing loss you might have.

Southeast Medical Hearing Centers

If you’re looking for comfortable hearing protection, we provide custom ear plugs for all of your hearing protection needs. If you are noticing changes in your hearing and are concerned that you may have noise-induced hearing loss, it is important to take a hearing test as soon as possible. Contact us for a consultation.