Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common types of hearing loss in people with hearing loss. After age-related hearing loss, NIHL is the most common type of hearing loss in the United States, according to the Hearing Loss Foundation of America.
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.
In particular, we look at how noise-induced hearing loss occurs, tips on how to avoid hearing loss, and ways to treat hearing loss.
What is noise-induced hearing loss?
Loud sounds can damage the structure of the inner ear, leading to noise-induced hearing loss. Most of the sounds we hear in our everyday environment are safe, such as the sound of the TV, traffic and conversations around us.
However, sometimes the sounds are too loud or last too long. This can cause noise-induced hearing loss. Unlike other types of hearing loss, NIHL is preventable.
How does your hearing work?
One of the most complex and fascinating functions of our body is the auditory system. Understanding how hearing works is essential to understanding noise-induced hearing loss.
- The ear canal allows sound waves to enter the ear.
- The ear canal transmits sound waves to the eardrum. The middle ear consists of three bones that move in response to the vibration of the eardrum: the malleus, pinna, and stapes.
- The fluid in the cochlea pulsates and waves due to the vibration of these tiny bones. The fluid-filled organ of the inner ear, the cochlea is snail-shaped.
- Small, delicate hair-like cells bend and wiggle over the fluid in our inner ears due to the movement of the fluid.
- Sound waves are converted into electrical signals when these hair-like cells bend.
- Eventually, our auditory nerve sends these signals to our brain for processing.
- The sound is then interpreted and understood by our brain.
How loud is too loud?
Sound levels below 80 dB from the listening position are considered safe. About 8 hours after treatment, permanent hearing loss begins. When the volume increases by three dB, hearing loss occurs twice as fast. At 91 dB, hearing damage will occur in just 4 hours, and at 97 dB, in just 2 hours.
Below is a list of familiar sounds with their dB equivalents.
- Washing machine: 70 decibels
- Alarm clock at 80 decibels
- A subway train carriage at 90 decibels
- Factory equipment at 100 dB
- Car horn 110 dB
- Concert at 120 db: live music
What happens when your ears are exposed to loud sounds?
Noise exposure, especially to the cochlear hair cells, can cause damage to the inner ear. Hair cells vibrate and bend more when the sound is louder. Loud sound waves can physically damage hair cells. Because of this damage, the cells will lose sensitivity and work less efficiently.
Thus we experience hearing loss for a short period. After leaving a concert or other noisy event, you may experience tinnitus. Others may need to speak loudly to hear you. This is mainly due to excessive noise that has dried out the hair cells of your snail. Because your ears are rested, your hearing usually recovers quickly.
Loud noise can cause serious 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 restore hearing after their damage.
How do I know if I have hearing loss due to loud noise?
The following signs or symptoms may indicate noise-induced hearing loss:
- Speech and other sounds are muffled
- Hearing problems with loud sounds (eg birds, doorbells, telephones, alarm clocks)
- If you are in a noisy place, such as a restaurant, you may have trouble understanding conversations
- Listening to speech on the phone is difficult
- Hearing difficulties with speech consonants (eg distinguishing between s and f, p and t or sh and th).
- Slowing down and clarifying someone else’s speech
- Make someone speak louder or repeat what they said
- Listening to the radio or television at a higher volume
- Ringing in the ears
- Certain sounds are very annoying or painful to some people (sensitivity to certain sounds)
Are you at risk of hearing loss due to loud noise?
Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by the following conditions and exposures (loud sounds).
- Susceptibility to noise and genetics
- Diseases that last for a long time (chronic), such as diabetes and hypertension
- Ear injuries
- Liquid organic chemicals such as toluene
- Use of certain medicines
Ototoxic drugs damage the ear. Hearing loss, ringing in the ears, or balance problems can be the result of hearing damage. There are more than 200 ototoxic drugs. These include antibiotics such as gentamicin, cancer drugs such as cisplatin and carboplatin, and pain relievers such as aspirin, quinine, and salicylate-containing loop diuretics, among many other medications.
How to protect hearing from loud sounds?
There are several things we can do to reduce the amount of sound we hear.
Keep away from the noise.
It is best to physically move away from the source of loud noises. Each doubling of the distance from the sound source reduces the exposure by six dBA.
Make sure 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 with prolonged exposure.
Make sure you wear hearing protection
If we have to (or want to) be exposed to loud sounds for longer than necessary, we should wear hearing protection. You should always carry general purpose earplugs wherever you go if you want to block out any sound.
Monitor the ambient sound level
You can now download mobile phone apps that measure dB levels. If you’re still figuring out your ambient noise level, you can use the app to determine if you need earplugs.
Noise-induced hearing loss is a common, preventable hearing loss that affects many people. Understanding how NIHL occurs and taking proactive steps to protect your hearing can minimize your risk of developing it.
You can protect your hearing by wearing earplugs or limiting your exposure to loud sounds. For an accurate diagnosis and to explore possible remedies, seek professional help as soon as you experience symptoms of NIHL. Preventive measures and knowledge can help you preserve your hearing for years.