Sounds are all around us, and sometimes these sounds are so loud that they can damage our hearing and cause what is known as noise-induced hearing loss.
While many loud noises are unavoidable, the increase in the use of personal listening devices, such as headphones and earbuds, in recent years is putting us at higher risk – and where adults were once at greater risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss, the risk for kids is now on the rise thanks to their headphone habits.
Of course, high-volume sounds aren’t always avoidable, despite our best intentions, but there are plenty of things we can do to protect our hearing. The key to healthy hearing is understanding how much damage these loud sounds can cause. It’s not always possible to stop noise-induced hearing loss, but there are many simple everyday strategies you implement to help with the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss in the future.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) happens when the structures of the inner ear, including the nerve hair cells in the cochlea, are damaged by noise that is beyond safe levels. All sound is created by vibrations, but when those sounds reach a hazardous volume, the vibrations become more powerful. They can be so strong that they damage the fragile hair cells in the ear, leading to a loss of hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss may be gradual, permanent or temporary.
Many of the sounds we hear in everyday life can contribute to noise-induced hearing loss, from the sound of a lawnmower to New Year’s Eve fireworks – even the buzz of people talking over loud music in a restaurant. They’re all sounds we associate with daily life but can adversely affect our hearing as the cumulative effects of sound exposure take hold.
Noise-induced hearing loss can happen suddenly or gradually over our lifetime. A single incidence of very loud noise, such as a gunshot or firecracker going off very close to the ear, has the power to create sudden noise-induced hearing loss. However, for most people, the damage is more gradual. Sometimes, exposure to a sudden or continuous loud noise can cause temporary hearing loss. But while hearing appears to return anywhere from 16 to 48 hours later, research suggests that long-term permanent damage to your hearing occurs. NIHL can also cause high-pitched tinnitus.
Some signs of NIHL include:
NIHL can be caused by exposure to short periods of excessive noise, such as an explosion, or long term exposure to loud sounds. Prolonged exposure to sounds such as loud music, motorcycle engines and heavy machinery can gradually take its toll on your hearing without you even noticing, even causing permanent damage. Regular exposure to sounds at 85 decibels or above can affect your hearing permanently, so it’s important to take steps to combat this.
You might be surprised to know just what 85 decibels sounds like. Some common examples are hair dryers, kitchen blenders or a city train. Heavy traffic is around 80-90db, power tools around 90db, and we’re also often exposed to sounds even louder than this, such as motorcycles (100-120db), music concerts (110db), and fireworks and jet engines taking off (120-140db).
The important thing to remember is that you can take preventative measures to protect your hearing. Some ways you can protect your hearing and prevent hearing loss include:
If you’re concerned about your hearing, our team of expert audiologists at Bay Audiology are available to answer any questions you may have about protecting your hearing. Book an appointment today to learn more about your hearing health and find a treatment that’s right for you.
Unfortunately, noise-induced hearing loss is permanent. Once damage has occurred to the delicate sensory nerve hairs in the cochlea, there is no way to reverse it. However, there are treatment options that can help sufferers hear again, and the one that is right for you will depend on the severity of the hearing loss.
Hearing aids are the most common and best current treatment for NIHL. A properly fitted hearing aid can improve your ability to hear sounds around you once again and certain models may also help reduce tinnitus (your Bay Audiology hearing specialist will help you determine which hearing aid is the best fit for your needs and lifestyle).
If you’re concerned about your hearing, our team of expert audiologists at Bay Audiology is available to answer any questions about protecting your hearing. Book an appointment today to learn more about your hearing health and find a treatment that’s right for you.