Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know

noise induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common types of hearing loss in people who have experienced hearing loss. After age-related hearing loss, NIHL is the most common type of hearing loss in the US, according to the American Hearing Loss Foundation.

23 %of people over the age of 65 suffer from NIHL, which is a type of sensorineural hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable, unlike other forms of hearing loss.

Specifically, we look at how noise-induced hearing loss occurs, tips for avoiding hearing loss, and remedies for hearing loss.

What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Loud noises can damage the inner ear structures leading to noise-induced hearing loss. Most of the time, the sounds we hear in our everyday environment are safe, such as TV, traffic, and ambient conversations. 

However, sometimes sounds are too loud or last too long. It can cause noise-induced hearing loss. In contrast to other types of hearing loss, NIHL can be prevented.

How Does Your Hearing Work?

One of our body’s most complex and fascinating functions is the auditory system. Understanding how hearing works is essential to understanding noise-induced hearing loss.

  1. The ear canal allows sound waves to enter the ear.
  2. The ear canal transports the sound waves to the eardrum. The middle ear comprises three bones that move in response to eardrum vibrations: the malleus, incus, and staples.
  3. Cochlea fluid ripples and waves due to vibrations of these tiny bones. An inner ear organ filled with fluid, the cochlea is shaped like a snail.
  4. Small, delicate hair-like cells bend and sway above the liquid in our inner ears because of fluid movement.
  5. Sound waves are converted into electrical signals when these hair-like cells bend.
  6. Ultimately, our auditory nerve sends these signals to our minds for processing. 
  7. Sound is then interpreted and understood by our brains.

How loud is too loud?

Sound levels below 80 dB from the listening position are considered safe. Approximately 8 hours after treatment, permanent hearing loss begins. Hearing loss occurs half as fast when the volume is increased by three dB. At 91 dB, hearing damage will occur in just 4 hours, and at 97 dB, it will take just 2 hours.

The following is a list of familiar sounds with their dB equivalents.

  • Washing machine: 70 decibels
  • Alarm clock at 80 decibels
  • Subway train cart at 90 decibels
  • Factory machinery at 100 dB
  • Horn of a car at 110 dB
  • Concert at 120 dB: Live music

What Happens When Your Ears Are Exposed To Loud Noises?

Noise exposure, especially cochlear hair cells, can cause damage to the inner ear. Hair cells vibrate and bend more when the sound is louder. The sheer volume of sound waves can physically damage hair cells. Cells will lose sensitivity and function less effectively due to such damage.

We experience hearing loss in this way over the short term. You may experience muffling of your hearing after leaving a concert or other noisy event. It may be necessary for others to speak loudly to hear you. It is mainly due to the excessive noise that has drained your cochlea’s hair cells. Because your ears have rested, your hearing usually returns quickly.

Loud noise can cause severe damage to hair cells if they are not given enough time to rest.Hair cells do not regenerate like other types of cells. Each of our hair cells is born with us. It is impossible to regain hearing once they are damaged. 

How Do I Know if I Have Hearing Loss Caused by Loud Noise?

The following signs or symptoms may indicate noise-induced hearing loss:

  1. There is a muffled sound to speech and other sounds
  2. Hearing difficulty with high-pitched sounds (e.g., birds, doorbells, telephones, alarm clocks)
  3. When you’re in a noisy place, such as a restaurant, you may have trouble understanding conversations
  4. Hearing speech over the phone is difficult
  5. Hearing difficulty with speech consonants (e.g., distinguishing between s and f, p and t, or sh and th).
  6. Slowing down and clarifying others’ speech
  7. Getting someone to speak louder or repeat what they said
  8. Listening to the radio or television at a higher volume
  9. Ear ringing
  10. Certain sounds are very annoying or cause pain for some people (hypersensitivity to certain sounds)

Are You at Risk for Loud Noise-Related Hearing Loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by the following conditions and exposures (to loud noises).

  • Noise susceptibility and genetics
  • Conditions that have existed for a long time (chronic), such as diabetes and hypertension
  • Ear injuries
  • Liquid organic chemicals, such as toluene
  • The use of certain medicines

Ototoxic medicines damage the ear. Loss of hearing, ringing in the ears, or trouble with balance can result from hearing damage. There are more than 200 ototoxic medicines. Among them are antibiotics like gentamicin, cancer treatment drugs like cisplatin and carboplatin, and pain relievers like aspirin, quinine, and loop diuretics that contain salicylate and many other medicines as well.

How To Protect Your Hearing From Loud Noises?

To reduce the amount of sound we hear, there are several things we can do. 

Keep Your Distance From The Noise.

It is best to remove yourself from the source of loud noises physically. Every doubling of distance from the sound source reduces your exposure by six dBA. 

Ensure That Noise Exposure Is Reduced

In the same way, we can limit our exposure. Hearing protection should be worn when listening to dangerously loud sounds, but many other sounds are only harmful when prolonged exposure occurs.

Make Sure You Use Hearing Protection

If we must (or choose to) be exposed to loud noises for longer than necessary, we should wear hearing protection. You should always carry general-purpose earplugs wherever you go if you want to block any sound.

Keep An Eye On The Sound Levels Around You

You can now download apps for your cell phone that measure dB levels. If you are still determining the noise level of an environment, you can use the app to determine if earplugs are necessary.

Final Thoughts

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss is a common and preventable hearing loss affecting many people. Understanding how NIHL occurs and taking proactive measures to protect your hearing can minimize your risk of developing it.

You can protect your hearing health by wearing earplugs or limiting your exposure to loud noises. To receive an accurate diagnosis and explore potential remedies, seek professional help as soon as you experience symptoms of NIHL. Preventative measures and knowledge can help you preserve your hearing for years.

Amie has a love for numbers and holds a master’s degree in finance. When she’s not playing with numbers or words or pottering in the garden, you can find her in the kitchen roasting her own coffee beans.

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