Noise Induced Hearing Loss

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In our everyday lives, we experience a number of different environments and noise levels – the grind of our morning coffee, the motors of our blow-dryers, and the ambiance of driving to work. Most of these everyday noises are completely safe at low volume levels and for short periods of time. However, some loud sounds can pose a dangerous threat to our hearing if we are exposed to them for too long. Over exposure to loud noises can result in a noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss is the result of damage to the inner ear resulting from prolonged exposure to loud noises. Loss of hearing generally results in communication difficulties. Although there are some types of hearing loss that can be reversed, noise-induced hearing loss is a permanent hearing impairment that cannot be corrected.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that 10 million Americans currently suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, while 30 to 50 million more are exposed to unsafe levels of noise each day. The number of individuals affected by noise induced hearing loss grows daily as music players, earphones, and entertainment devices become more widely available and portable.

What causes Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss is the direct result of prolonged exposure to loud noises or sounds. But how can we differentiate between a “safe” sound and one that is too loud?

Scientists use a logarithmic scale called the decibel scale to quantify the “intensity” – or volume – of a sound. This scale is referenced by what is generally agreed upon to be the quietest sound (0 dB) a human ear can detect. Louder sounds have a greater decibel measure than quiet sounds. For example, normal conversation levels average around 60 dB while the sound of a jet engine from 30 meters away is approximately 130 dB.

The duration of exposure to a noise is equally important when considering if a sound’s volume is safe or not. Sounds at or below 90 dB (such as street traffic) are generally safe for extended periods of time. However, sounds at 100 dB (such as a chainsaw) should only be heard for a maximum of 2 hours a day. Sounds at 115 dB (such as a loud rock concert) should only be endured for 15 minutes per day without protection. Always wear hearing protection if you are in a noisy environment for a prolonged amount of time to reduce your risk of hearing loss.

Effects of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Hearing loss not only impairs your ability to hear but also impairs your ability to communicate with those around you. As a result, hearing loss often affects people in a number of different physical and psychological ways. Individuals with hearing loss often cannot keep up with daily conversation and social activities, leading to feelings of isolation and depression.

Do you have hearing loss?

Tinnitus (the sensation of ringing in the ears) is often an early warning sign of hearing damage. However, since hearing loss slowly develops over the course of several years, many people do not realize they may be losing their hearing. Noise induce hearing loss is formally diagnosed by hearing care professionals such as an ENT specialist through a hearing test. If you believe you may have hearing loss, contact a hearing care professional as soon as possible.

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Construction workersMan showing hearing loss