Today’s world is much noisier than the world of just a few hundred years ago. And while all of that industry and change may have brought about a lot of benefits, human hearing wasn't designed for all the noise. There are a number of reasons people suffer from hearing loss, and noise is one of them. When this happens, it is called noise induced hearing loss. In some situations, this type of hearing loss occurs instantly when a very loud noise occurs. Other times, it gets progressively worse over time. Understanding this type of hearing loss may help you to take steps to minimize its impact on you.
This type of hearing loss is not uncommon. In fact, studies indicate that 5.2 million people between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from it, and about 26 million adults aged 20 to 69 suffer from it, according to the Cleveland Clinic data.
When noise-induced hearing loss occurs, the inner ear structure suffers damage. Day to day sounds in the average environment do not cause damage to these structures. Things like the TV or conversations don’t damage hearing. When a sound is too loud or lasts for too long, that can cause damage to these sensitive structures and, ultimately, that can cause hearing loss.
This type of hearing loss can occur in anyone at any age, depending on the types of sounds they experience. Some examples of people who may be at a much higher risk of noise-induced hearing loss include:
When very loud sounds occur, or you listen to loud sounds for a period of time, this can cause damage to the cochlea. This is an inner ear organ critical for hearing. The loud sounds damage the membranes and cells on the cochlea.
In some situations, this type of hearing loss can occur after exposure to a loud sound. When it happens, you may experience a loss of hearing for a few minutes or a few days. Most of the time, your hearing will come back, and it may seem like your hearing is just fine again.
However, that does not always ring true. In some situations, the inner ear membranes and cells are still damaged and can be destroyed. In situations like this, if there are enough cells to do so, your hearing should return to near normal levels. However, when there is ongoing damage or there is significant damage to most of the cells, the hearing does not improve.
Specifically, this type of hearing loss happens when the cells on the small hairs located within the inner ear die. There is no way for these cells to grow back if they are destroyed due to high levels of sound.
To provide a better idea of how this type of damage can occur, consider what happens when sound enters into the ear canal.
In hearing loss, there is damage to the hair cells that is often so significant that it destroys them. That leads to an inability of the cells to create those electrical signals.
There are a wide range of indications that you could be suffering from noise-induced hearing loss. Sometimes, this type of hearing loss can happen suddenly and creates profound hearing loss. Other times, it will develop over time as a person experiences ongoing exposure to loud sounds. Some of the most common symptoms a person with this type of hearing loss may experience include:
If you have symptoms like this, reach out to a hearing specialist, especially if they happen numerous times or they are leading to long-term hearing loss.
This is where it can be very difficult to provide a simple answer. Many factors can create noise-induced hearing loss, and not everyone is impacted the same way. Not everyone that goes to a loud concert is going to have hearing loss that’s sustained. The person standing closest to the speakers is likely to have the highest risk factors, of course.
In everyday life, such as when a person is exposed to loud sounds for a long period of time, that can lead to hearing loss that is more gradual. It may take as long as 10 or more years to develop from consistent exposure.
One way to know what type of risks are present is to understand how noise is measured. We measure noise in decibels (dBA). Any noises that have 85 dBA or higher can cause hearing loss when you are exposed to it. So, how much is that? Here are some examples to help you:
Does that mean you cannot engage in these activities? That’s not necessarily the case, but you should take steps to limit the frequency as well as wear protective hearing devices when possible.
While you cannot prevent the unpredictable, there are situations where you can reduce the risk of hearing damage by limiting the exposure to very loud sounds. Here are some tips on doing so:
If you believe you may have had such exposures and may have symptoms of hearing loss, set up some time to discuss your experiences with a licensed audiologist or hearing specialist. At the same time, work to protect your hearing going forward with the use of ear plugs and other protective devices on an ongoing basis.
If you have this type of hearing loss, there is no way to encourage healing or regrowth of the hair cells. That is why being as active as possible in preventing further hearing loss to reduce the risk to the remaining hair cells is so important.
It’s critical to take action and see a specialist if you have this type of hearing loss. That’s because hearing loss impacts a person’s quality of life. As such, you want to be sure you are taking any steps possible now to prevent further damage.
By scheduling a hearing test, you can determine if you have hearing loss, the underlying cause of it, and what steps can be taken to protect your hearing going forward. You will find that this type of hearing test is painless, and there is really no type of invasive component to it. It also only takes a short among of time to complete. Then, you can work with the team to determine if there are any steps you can take to reduce your risks and improve outcomes.