Definition

What is noise-induced hearing loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent hearing loss that is caused by being around loud noises over a long period of time. It can also occur after you are exposed to loud noise in a short period of time, such as a gunshot or explosion. The more you are around loud noises, the more you risk having hearing loss.

Whether noise harms your hearing depends on the loudness, the pitch, and the length of time you are exposed to the noise. The loudness of a sound (measured in decibels, or dB) and the length of exposure are related. The louder the sound, the shorter the exposure can be before damage occurs. For example, 8 hours of exposure to 85-dB noise on a daily basis can begin to damage a person’s ears over time. Using power tools (at about 100 dB), listening to loud stereo headsets (at about 110 dB), attending a rock concert (at about l20 dB), or hearing a gunshot (at 140 to 170 dB) may damage the hearing of some people after only a few times.

How common is noise-induced hearing loss?

An estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss?

One reason people fail to notice the danger of noise is that too much exposure to noise causes few symptoms. Hearing loss is rarely painful. The symptoms are usually vague feelings of pressure or fullness in the ears, speech that seems to be muffled or far away, and a ringing sound in the ears that you notice when you are in quiet places. These symptoms may go away minutes, hours or days after the exposure to noise ends.

People assume that if the symptoms go away, their ears have “bounced back” to normal. This is not really true. Even if there are no more symptoms, some of the cells in the inner ear may have been destroyed by the noise. Your hearing returns to normal if enough healthy cells are left in your inner ear. But you will develop a lasting hearing loss if the noise exposure is repeated and more cells are destroyed.

The first sign of a noise-induced hearing loss is not hearing high-pitched sounds, like the singing of birds, or not understanding speech when in a crowd or an area with a lot of background noise. If the damage goes on, hearing declines further, and lower pitched sounds become hard to understand.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor? 

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes noise-induced hearing loss?

The human ear is divided into 3 parts — the external, middle, and inner ear. The inner ear is located inside the skull. It is the most complex part of the ear. The soft tissue of the inner ear is made of different types of cells and nerves, all arranged in a pattern on a thin sheet of tissue. Large tubes filled with fluid surround the soft tissue of the inner ear. Hearing loss occurs when the inner ear is damaged.

Frequent exposure to loud or moderately loud noise over a long period of time can damage the soft tissue of the inner ear. Cells and nerves in the inner ear are destroyed by continuous or repeated exposure to loud sounds. If enough cells and nerves are destroyed, hearing is permanently damaged.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for noise-induced hearing loss?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is noise-induced hearing loss diagnosed?

Hearing loss usually develops over a period of several years. Since it is painless and gradual, you might not notice it. What you might notice is a ringing or other sound in your ear (tinnitus), which could be the result of long-term exposure to noise that has damaged hearing. Or, you may have trouble understanding what people say; they may seem to be mumbling, especially when you are in a noisy place such as in a crowd or at a party. This could be the beginning of high-frequency hearing loss; a hearing test will detect it. If you have any of these symptoms, you may have nothing more serious than impacted wax or an ear infection, which might be simply corrected. However, it might be hearing loss from noise. In any case, take no chances with noise – the hearing loss it causes is permanent.

If you suspect a hearing loss, consult a physician with special training in ear care and hearing disorders (called an otolaryngologist or otologist). This doctor can diagnose your hearing problem and recommend the best way to manage it.

People differ in their sensitivity to noise. As a general rule, noise may damage your hearing if you have to shout over background noise to make yourself heard, the noise hurts your ears, it makes your ears ring, or you are slightly deaf for several hours after exposure to the noise.

How is noise-induced hearing loss treated?

There is no cure for permanent hearing loss. One of the most obvious “treatments” for this type of hearing loss is avoiding your exposure to noise. This can prevent your hearing loss from getting worse.

There is equipment that can help you hear better. Depending on the degree of your hearing loss, you may benefit from using a hearing aid (a device you wear on your ear to magnify sound). For profound hearing loss, you may qualify for a cochlear implant. A cochlear implant is an electronic hearing device that replaces the damaged inner ear with a ray of electrodes. These electrodes are surgically implanted in your inner ear. They provide sound signals to your brain.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage noise-induced hearing loss?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you prevent noise-induced hearing loss:

  • Reduce your exposure to noise.This step is especially important for people who work in noisy places and who go to and from work in noisy city traffic. Special earmuffs that protect your ears are available for people who work in noisy environments (such as around heavy machinery). You can also reduce your exposure to noise by choosing quiet leisure activities rather than noisy ones.
  • Develop the habit of wearing earplugs when you know you will be exposed to noise for a long time.Disposable foam earplugs are inexpensive and are available in drugstores. These earplugs, which can quiet up to 25 dB of sound, can mean the difference between a dangerous and a safe level of noise. You should always wear earplugs when riding snowmobiles or motorcycles, attending concerts, when using power tools, lawn mowers or leaf blowers, or when traveling in loud motorized vehicles.
  • Use sound-absorbing materials to reduce noise at home and at work.Rubber mats can be put under noisy kitchen appliances and computer printers to cut down on noise. Curtains and carpeting also help reduce indoor noise. Storm windows or double-pane windows can reduce the amount of outside noise that enters the home or workplace.
  • Don’t use several noisy machines at the same time.Try to keep television sets, stereos, and headsets low in volume. Loudness is a habit that can be broken.
  • Don’t try to drown out unwanted noise with other sounds.For example, don’t turn up the volume on your car radio or headset to drown out traffic noise or turn up the television volume while vacuuming.
  • Have your hearing checked if you are regularly exposed to loud noise at work or play.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: January 2, 2018 | Last Modified: January 2, 2018

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