Noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, is when your sense of hearing suffers impairment due to the exposure to loud noises. The exposure can be brief or prolonged. NIHL can happen at any age, meaning both young and old people are at risk.
The loss of hearing itself happens when the stereocilia, which is the top part of hair cells in your inner ear, get damaged by trauma caused by loud sounds either suddenly, as with gunshots, or over a period of time, like when you live or work in a noisy environment.
It is these stereocilia that send information to the brain, a function that ensures our perception of different sounds. As such, hearing loss induced by noise can either mean the loss of perception of certain sound frequencies or a general loss of sensitivity to sound.
How Loud Do Noises Have to Be to Be Harmful?
Most of the sounds we have to process for our communication aren’t harmful. To damage your hearing, sounds have to exceed normal conversational sounds of 60 to 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA).
To be safe, do not expose your ears to sounds louder than 85 dBA. But generally, the louder the sound, the shorter the sounds have to be to cause hearing loss.
Some people are more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, especially if you work in an environment where regular loud noise is the norm. Remember, noise-induced hearing loss can take place gradually, as it would in the aforementioned instance. Or, it can take place as a result of acute acoustic trauma, in other words, a one-time exposure to a really loud noise such as an explosion or gunfire.
Symptoms of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss can and usually does happen gradually, meaning with extended exposure your ability to hear clearly gets poorer. Normally, you don’t even realize it as it happens, but after some time it starts to get noticeable. Common signs are:
- Constant buzzing or ringing sounds, a condition which is known as tinnitus that can be overcome, can persist for a long time or can be permanent. With this symptom, you hear sounds that are not there.
- Continually having to ask people to repeat themselves when in conversation due to loss of audibility or volume of sound. This symptom is noticeable when you are communicating against a noisy background.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from the condition, it is advised that you seek a medical opinion and evaluation as soon as possible.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Treatment
Noise-induced hearing loss is usually permanent. This means there isn’t any available treatment to reverse its effects. Hearing aids can help in cases where you have lost audibility, which can also come with old age. However, it has to be noted that hearing aids aren’t a form of treatment.
The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable. How do you prevent it? You do this by knowing what noises are harmful, which is any sound louder than 85 dBA.
The most effective preventive measure is to avoid or move away from all loud noises. If you can’t avoid the noise, then wear protective ear plugs. In the case of young children, it is the parent’s duty to make sure children are kept away from noisy environments.
For better hearing health, it is important to periodically get screened for hearing loss. The Chennault House of Hearing is a leader in hearing health. We offer free hearing screening and a suite of specialist services. Contact us today to book your appointment.