Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Did you know that the most common cause of hearing loss is also the most preventable? While hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors including infections, obstructions, aging and even some forms of medication, most hearing loss is caused by unprotected exposure to loud noise. Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent damage that your hearing sustains from these loud noises. Let’s take a look at how excess noise can damage your hearing and what you can do to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Our sense of hearing depends on tiny and delicate sensory cells that line the cochlea of the inner ear. These cells, called “hair cells” are responsible for picking up the vibrations of sound waves in the air and translating these vibrations into a signal sent to the brain where it is interpreted. Hair cells give our sense of hearing tremendous range, but they can be stretched beyond their limit by very loud sounds. 

Unfortunately, our body has no way to repair or replace hair cells that become damaged, so when they sustain injury from loud sound it creates hearing damage that is permanent. Noise induced hearing loss can happen rapidly with unprotected exposure to noise, but in most cases it builds up gradually over time as each new incidence of hearing damage worsens our ability to hear. Gradual noise-induced hearing loss can be very subtle, making it hard to notice when significant hearing impairment is occurring. Regular hearing exams are an important part of monitoring your hearing health and detecting noise-induced hearing loss.

What Is Excess Noise?

When does sound too loud for your hearing? The answer is: it varies. Sound volume is measured in a unit called “decibels” or “dB”. In general, sounds below the threshold of 75 dB, about the volume of a food court or vacuum cleaner, are harmless to your hearing. For sounds above 75 dB, your hearing can only sustain limited exposure without being damaged. The louder the sound, the sooner it will permanently injure your hearing. 

For workers, 85 dB is an important threshold. About the volume of a factory floor or auto body shop, 85 dB will damage hearing permanently after 8 hours of exposure. Those who work in a loud setting should always use hearing protection on the job. Exposure times drop exponentially the louder the sound. A rock concert amplified to 105 dB is only safe for human hearing for 10 minutes. Very loud sounds, like fireworks or gunshots, happen at volumes of 120 dB and above and can damage your hearing instantaneously. 

Understanding Noise Exposure

It can be difficult to understand when your hearing is being affected by loud noises. While some very loud noises may cause physical pain in the ear, a sound can be dangerously loud and completely painless to listen to. Sometimes, loud noise exposure will cause tinnitus- a ringing in the ear – which is a sign that injury has occurred in your inner ear. Unfortunately, whether or not there are indications, loud noises permanently damage your hearing if you don’t limit your exposure and protect your ears. 

A good way to understand the level of noise exposure in your daily life is by using a smartphone 

decibel-monitoring app. Applications on the market for all models of smartphone can transform your digital device into a decibel meter, and alert you when you are being exposed to sound volumes that could damage your hearing.

Protect Yourself

Fortunately, preventing noise-induced hearing loss is easy: minimize your exposure to dangerously loud noise, and protect ears when exposure can’t be avoided. Carrying a good pair of reusable fitted ear plugs is a great way to always be prepared for excess noise, and a must for music aficionados, power tool users and even those with a loud daily commute. Hunters, musicians and anyone exposed to very loud sounds at close range will be best served by doubling hearing protection with a combination of ear plugs and a pair of noise-reducing ear muffs. 

Another important part of protecting your hearing is regular hearing exams. A hearing exam can catch hearing loss and hearing issues early, when treatment is best initiated. Hearing exams can monitor changes in your hearing as well as connecting you with better hearing health.