Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

In Hearing Loss by Dr. Maya Berenson, AuD

Dr. Maya Berenson, AuD
Latest posts by Dr. Maya Berenson, AuD (see all)

This is a world rich in sound. Some sounds people find delightful, while others don’t. No matter what your taste, if a noise is too loud it could cause permanent damage to your hearing if you are exposing yourself without proper protection. When does sound become noise and when does it start to put your hearing at risk? 

Sound vs. noise

No matter what causes a sound it is actually creating vibrations, which travel through the air towards our ears. It is commonly said the sound becomes noise when it is unwanted or at such a high level that it begins to damage your ears. This could be from a noisy concert, loud machinery at work, at home or on the street, or even your television or sound system turned up to loud. Our technological world has become so full of excessive sound that the term “noise pollution” was coined to describe the phenomenon. Decibels are a way of measuring levels of sound. Sound generally turns to noise when a decibel level reaches 85.  This decibel level over an extended amount of time can start to degrade a person’s hearing. As the decibel levels continue to rise our hearing becomes more at risk to a more sudden degree.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)

Noise induced hearing loss occurs as excessive noise destroys the tiny hair cells in your inner ear used to pick up sound and transmit it to your brain to process. This is a serious matter because once these hair cells die, they can never be replicated, leaving your hearing permanently damaged. It is extremely loud short noises like an explosion or gunshot and repeated, constant exposure to loud sounds that contribute to noise induced hearing loss. 

Symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss 

After a while of being exposed to loud noise at work or home you may notice that you are having trouble hearing what people are saying. You might believe that people are mumbling. It can be particularly hard to hear children and people with higher pitched voices. This is because it is often that higher pitches are the first to degrade in hearing. Often after a loud and sudden blast you can be left with lasting pain, or a buzzing or ringing in your ears with no external source referred to as tinnitus.

Side effects of noise induced hearing loss

As is with all hearing loss, NIHL makes communication difficult and decreases awareness of the world around you. An inability to hear and hence communicate can cause people anxiety, depression and social isolation. These side effects can instigate high blood pressure, insomnia, and increased heart rate. There are even studies that link hearing loss to a predisposition for dementia.

Ways to prevent noise-induced hearing loss 

In some cases you cannot predict when a loud sound will come, seemingly out of nowhere and damage your hearing. Even so, we can predict most instances where we will be exposed to noise in our daily life. If you work in a noisy environment it is important to wear proper ear protection to maintain hearing health. Most workplaces will insist on this, as it is the law to provide hearing protection to employees in noisy workplaces. If you know you will be using a power tool or engaging in noisy music it is a wise idea to make sure to wear ear protection. Make it a habit to protect your hearing when you go out to a place or engage in activity that will be noisy. Many smart phones now have downloadable apps to help you measure the level of noise in a space, so you know when it is time to start using hearing protection.  

Treatment for noise-induced hearing loss

Once your ears are damaged due to noise induced hearing loss it is permanent. However hearing aids have been proven time and time again to help people hear what they are missing. Hearing aid technology continues to make leaps and bounds to help people living with hearing loss able to participate in life with improved hearing. If you suspect you are living with noise induced hearing loss make an appointment for a hearing test today and get back to hearing your best.