Latest posts by Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HIS (see all)
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Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), together with age-related hearing loss, is one of the most widespread types of hearing loss. It happens when we are subject to hazardous noise concentrations, whether on a long or short term basis.
It is classified as a type of sensorineural hearing loss caused by damage to the internal organs of the ear. Noise-related hearing loss is irreversible, as with most types of sensorineural hearing loss. If we are exposed to harmful noise, short-term changes in our hearing or tinnitus may occur. But persistent loud exposure without the use of ear protection can cause a more permanent hearing loss.
What makes noise damage our hearing?
Sound is counted in decibels. If the level of the sound is less than 70 dB, this is unlikely to cause hearing loss, even after extended exposures. But lengthy or sustained sound exposure at 85 dB or higher can result in hearing loss. Put simply, the louder the sound, the less time you can be exposed to it before you develop hearing damage.
Thousands of small hairs in your inner ear are used to pick up the sounds around you. These signals are passed to the brain to be processed into sound. When damage to these hair cells occurs due to noise exposure, they do not regenerate. The damage is permanent.
How is NIHL caused?
Loud sounds anywhere could cause us harm, whether at work or at play. Historically, attention to the damaging effects of NIHL were focused on the workplace, and laws were subsequently enacted to prevent workers from damaging their hearing in noisy work environments. Many lawsuits later, the success of that initiative over the past 30 years has shifted the problem to the way we spend our leisure time. Now the most dangerous sources of noise are located in your home, your living environment and in the leisure activities you partake in.
Household gadgets like like food processors, hair dryers and vacuum cleaners are some of the frequent sources of noise in the home. Individuals can also be exposed to hazardous noise levels from DIY and gardening machines like power tools and lawnmowers. People are also using earphones at louder volumes and for longer periods. The volume of an earbud can sometimes be as loud as a full-blown live concert!
Public transportation can also be an unexpected cause of NIHL. In a recent New York Times article which measured the noise levels of New York’s subway lines, they calculated that one-fifth of the lines reached noise levels of up to 100 decibels at times. Put into context, this is a noise level that can only be endured for 90 seconds before noise-damage can occur.
Finally, very noisy sounds like gun shots can lead to instant hearing loss, which makes hearing protection is of utmost importance for any activities involving firearms.
How do I know I have NIHL?
You will have a high-frequency drop in your hearing from NIHL, meaning that you wont be able to hear these sounds as well as other people. This explains why it is often hard for those with hearing loss to understand women and children’s voices. The damage will spread to other frequencies if exposure to noise persists. The noise begins to impacts a broader frequency range, making it very difficult to follow conversations in situations of noise very hard to follow discussions.
Is it possible to prevent NIHL?
Being aware of the loudest sounds you are exposed to everyday is a great starting point for preventing noise-induced hearing loss. It’s also helpful to identify which daily sounds are louder than 85dB and how often and how long you hear them. To make this easier for you, there are many smartphone apps around which monitor your surrounding noise levels.
Once you’ve found the loudest sounds in your everyday life, take measures to safeguard your hearing if you are regularly subjected to these noises for long periods of time.
Hearing Care Centers
Are you looking to protect your hearing from damaging noise? We offer custom protection for protection during recreational activities, live music and more. If you are concerned you may have hearing loss yourself, we also specialised in hearing evaluations. Contact us today to set up an appointment.