Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

There are all sorts of sounds in the world. Some, such as the chirping of birds or the gentle rustle of the trees bending in the wind can cause calm and grounding in the world. However, as sounds become louder and more persistent, they can reach a point where they are loud enough to cause permanent damage to your hearing. This is called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and it is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, especially for people across generations.

What is NIHL?

Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when sound reaches a safe listening threshold causing permanent hearing damage. We collect sound with our ears but hearing occurs in the brain. When sound enters the outer ear it must travel through the ear drum and ossicles of the middle ear to reach tiny hair-like cells called stereocilia. Stereocilia are the sole delivery system for audio information to the brain and are incredibly fragile. There are a great number of risks to stereocilia such as infection, impact on the head, ototoxic environmental toxins, ototoxic medications, and ongoing health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. However, exposure to loud levels of sound is one of the most common causes of damage. When decibels surpass a safe listening threshold for too long the vibrations of sound become violent enough to shatter, damage, and destroy the stereocilia as they crash against the membrane which holds them.

How loud is too loud?

The loudness or intensity of sound is measured in decibels and any sound over 85dB has the potential to damage hearing irreversibly. However, it’s not just the level of sound that must be noted, but the length of exposure. For instance, at the threshold of 85dB, it takes 8 hours of constant exposure for damage to occur. However, at ten decibels higher it takes less than an hour and at a 20-decibel increase, it takes just under 15 minutes! 

A Surprisingly Noisy World

You may be surprised at some of the sounds in your life that you are used to hearing every day. The decibel levels of certain sounds may be damaging your ears and you don’t even realize it. Here is a chart to help gain some perspective on the dangerous decibel levels we may encounter on any given day:

  • 70 dB: Washing machine
  • 80 dB: Alarm clock
  • 90 dB: Subway train cart
  • 100 dB: Factory machinery
  • 110 dB: Car horn
  • 120 dB: Live music concert

 Dangers of NIHL

Have you ever left a fireworks show or concert with ringing in your ears? This is a sign of hearing loss and it can occur to people of all ages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projects that 1 in 8 people 12 years of age to 69 suffer hearing loss in both ears, based on standard examinations. When hearing loss occurs it commonly develops gradually so often you don’t even realize it’s an issue. This means people live with hearing loss for years without treating it.  It’s common to underestimate this condition however, aside from a hearing deficit, hearing loss is a communication issue. When we struggle to hear, the relationships in our life become strained. We struggle through conversations at work and at home. Our loved ones often notice but don’t know how to help. Over years rifts can form in your closest relationships and even when your loved ones are near, it’s common to feel lonely due to a reduced quality of connection. Social isolation can lead to cognitive decline and an increased risk of developing dementia.

How to Prevent NIHL

NIHL is a permanent condition but it can be treated using hearing aids. These amazing electronic devices can help you to hear sounds that may have been missing for years, allowing you to connect to the people you love and enjoy life on your terms. In the meantime, try some of these techniques to avoid damaging your hearing further:

  • Know the decibel levels in your life: you can measure decibel levels using a free app on most smartphones
  • Where hearing protection: If you can’t avoid a sound, make sure to wear hearing protection
  • Increase your distance and length of exposure:  Exposure falls by six dBA for every doubling of the distance between you and the source of the sound. 
  • Test Your Hearing Regularly: Schedule a hearing exam with us today!