Latest posts by Robert Weissman, Au.D., B.C.A., CCC-A (see all)
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Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common types of hearing loss. Sensorineural types of hearing loss like this one occur in 23% of people over the age of 65, but the difference with hearing loss is that it is 100% avoidable, unlike the others. Here we examine the causes of noise induced hearing loss and explain how to prevent it happening to you.
What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
In a reasonably busy life, there will have many opportunities to encounter loud noise. The hum of city traffic, the clatter of public transport, the roar of your lawnmower engine, some of these noises have the potential to cause hearing loss. And more of it is self-inflicted than you think: How many times have you turned up the volume on your earphones to drown out the subway carriage, the annoying stories of those sitting behind you, or a crying baby on an airplane?
Loud sounds generally damage your hearing gradually over a period of time. They can also damage your hearing on the rare occasions you are subject to a short blast of loud noise, such as a firearm or explosion. As the sound reaches your ear, the delicate hair cells in your cochlea (your hearing organ) can be easily damaged by the noise. These hair cells have the job of sending sound signals to the brain to be processed as sound, so when they are damaged, they can’t send that sound to the brain, resulting in hearing loss.
That’s not to say that the hair cells will definitely be destroyed by one or two instances of loud noise. But it seems to be a cumulative effect that is most responsible for the damage. The worst part is that when these hair cells are destroyed, the body can’t grow them back, and no medical surgery currently exists to restore them. The damage is permanent.
How do I know if it’s too loud?
There are several back-of-the-envelope ways in which you can tell if the sound around you is too loud. You might leave the event with ringing in your ears or a dulled perception of sound. You might have to yell to talk to the person sitting next to you. A more precise way to check is to use an app – there are plenty out there which measure ambient noise levels and will tell you whether they are dangerous to your health. If the app is telling you the sound around you is more than 85dB, that’s when you need to be careful.
Noise is measured in units called decibels (dB). Decibels measure the sound, and the bigger the number is, the noisier the sound. Some sounds can be tolerated for several hours and others can cause harm within seconds of exposure. As mentioned before, any sound higher than 85 dB could lead to hearing loss.
Who’s at Risk from NIHL?
All of us can be exposed to loud noises and develop hearing loss. But these groups of people need to be particularly wary:
Those in loud jobs: If you work in construction, manufacturing, or farming, hearing loss is a definite occupational hazard.
Military personnel: Hearing loss is one of the most common service-related injuries bought back from the battlefield.
Young people: The WHO predicts that about 1,1 billion adolescents and young adults are at risk of hearing loss from unsafe earphone use and exposure to harmful sound in noisy places like nightclubs, bars and sporting events.
What can I do to protect myself?
- Listen at a lower volume and less often when using earphones
Whether it’s the latest box set binge or your favourite album, make sure you listen on earphones sparingly. Experts recommend listening at 60% of the volume for no more than 60minutes before taking a break.
- Consider noise cancelling earphones
Noise cancelling headphones are useful when you are surrounded by noise, as it makes it less likely you will raise the volume to be able to hear better, thereby sparing your ears.
- Protect your ears when out
Invest in a pair of custom-molded earplugs for protection when you are in noisy places when out. These are designed to fit snugly inside your ear and are very comfortable as well as protective. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, any hearing protection is better than nothing. Foam or silicone earplugs widely available at your local drugstore.
For those who are looking for the most comfortable hearing protection, we offer custom hearing devices. These are fit to your exact ear shape and are both easy to wear and highly protective. Contact us today if you think these may be right for you.