Habitual exposure to high levels of excessive noise often leads to noise-induced hearing loss that affects 1 in 10 Americans. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is permanent because the frequent subjection to loud sounds will, over time, irreparably damage the hair cells of the inner ear, which are the sensory receptors responsible for sending sound to the brain.
Also known as sensorineural hearing loss in medical terms, noise-induced hearing loss is most prevalent among babys, musicians, construction workers, military personnel, heavy industry workers, police officers, firefighters, and people who work in loud environments without wearing protective earplugs or earmuffs.
While NIHL is preventable, it is not reversible and, in some cases, children whose birth weight was low or those born to a mother who had a form of German measles known as ‘Rubella’ may also suffer from sensorineural hearing loss.
Aging can also lead to a form of NIHL known as Presbycusis, which occurs gradually and initially affects a person’s ability to hear high-frequency sounds clearly, which progresses to lower frequency sounds too. Presbycusis is generally caused by the natural aging of the auditory system, which is the part of the inner ear that is responsible for the transmission or detection of sound. Damage to this part of the ear can result in loss of hearing ability and sense of balance or equilibrium.
Sensorineural hearing loss can also be as a result of head trauma, an autoimmune inner ear disease, a virus infection, a malformation of the inner ear, tumors, abrupt changes in air pressure, for example, an airplane descent and much more. According to the National Institute of Health, about 15% of Americans aged between 20 to 69 have noise-induced hearing loss as a result of recreational activities such as listening to loud music using headphones or from occupational hazards respectfully.
Sound is measured in units called decibels. Noise that can damage your ears is referred to as “toxic noise,” and long exposure to sounds that are at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. If even a one-time exposure to an intense sound can cause noise-induced hearing loss, think of the damage repeated exposure to 85dB in heavy traffic, 95dB in motorcycles, 105dB in an MP3 player at maximum volume, or 150dB from firecrackers or gunshots, will do to your ears.
Sound plays an important role in our lives and our ears, delicate as they are, play a vital role in detecting and amplifying sound as well as helping the body stay in balance. When you think about it, a typical conversation occurs at 60dB and some people with very good hearing can hear sounds that are down to 15 dB or lower. Your ear works by catching sound waves in your environment, they then travel through the ear canal to the eardrum and translates them into signals that your brain can interpret.
The snail shell-shaped structure in the ear known as the cochlea is filled with a special fluid that sits under an elastic membrane called the basilar membrane. Sudden or prolonged exposure to noises, such as an explosion, gunshot, firecracker, Lawnmowers, power tools, or loud music, can damage the cochlear nerve and cause cumulative and progressive hearing loss.
The reason why noise-induced hearing loss is permanent is because once the hair cells, which are sensory receptors responsible for sound and body position are damaged, they do not regenerate and sustained damage to the cochlear nerve can hamper it from sending audio signals to the brain. So, the noise around you is at a hazardous level, and you have been potentially exposed to “toxic noise” if you have some of the following signs and symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss:
• If you experience ear pain and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
• If you have to strain to hear someone whose two feet away from you
• If you have to raise your voice to be heard
• If sounds seem muffled or distorted after leaving a noisy setting
• If you have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise
Damage from continuous noise exposure is usually gradual, and you might not even notice that you are slowly beginning to lose your hearing until you experience one or more of the above telltale signs. Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent, but it’s also one of the only type hearing loss that is almost entirely preventable through practicing good hearing health. You know by now that noises that can cause damage are those at or above 85dB, therefore, avoiding such noises would be a good place to start.
Also, if you work in a noisy environment, wearing protective devices such as earplugs or noise reduction headphones while you work will significantly lower the impact of noise and protect your ears from the damaging effects of exposure to continuous loud sounds. Using headsets that can block out background noise can help you moderate your listening level or use noise-canceling headphones that limit the volume that your MP3 player can output. Noise prevention at home, especially with little children is also very critical, and parents can protect their kids from noise-induced hearing loss by avoiding buying them toys that have noises over 85 decibels.
Parents can also limit noise exposure in children by ensuring that the volumes on the radio, television, or video games are set at a safe level. Studies suggest that kids with high-frequency hearing loss present behavioral problems and learning difficulties and it’s important for all children to have their hearing tested regularly or when there is a concern over a child’s hearing abilities. It’s important to teach young adults about the dangers of prolonged exposure to loud sounds and encourage them to take protective measures when in loud recreational environments.