While hearing loss can be caused by factors we can’t control such as genetics and aging, other causes of hearing loss can be prevented.
The most common cause of preventable hearing loss is exposure to excessive noise. This is called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Noise-induced hearing loss causes a type of hearing loss called sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss results in damage to the organ of hearing inside the inner ear called the cochlea. Tiny hair cells inside the cochlea become damaged or die when exposed to dangerously loud sounds. In humans, this damage is permanent and irreversible. There are currently no medical or surgical treatment options for noise-induced hearing loss.
Typically, this type of damage occurs gradually over a long period of time through repeated exposure to dangerously loud sounds. However, noise-induced hearing loss can sometimes occur after only one exposure. An explosion or gun shot for example is powerful enough to cause a type of noise-induced hearing loss called acute acoustic trauma.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately one third of all cases of hearing loss are caused from noise exposure. This also means that about one in three cases of hearing loss could have been prevented.
How loud is too loud?
There are two main factors to consider when determining if exposure to a certain sound or environment will damage your hearing: Intensity and duration. In short, the louder the sound, the shorter the length of time you can be safely exposed to it without the risk of causing permanent damage to your hearing.
Sound is measured in decibels, or dB for short. Any sound 85 decibels and louder can cause hearing damage depending on how long you’ve been exposed to it. You’d probably be surprised at how loud some environments can be. Buses, subways and restaurants can reach sound levels above 85 decibels. If you’re ever in an environment that feels too loud, it probably is.
There are lots of smartphone apps that allow you to measure the sound level of the environment you’re in. It doesn’t hurt to test the environment you’re in and if it is in fact too loud, you should either leave the environment, or ensure you’re wearing hearing protection.
Disposable earplugs, over-the-ear muffs or custom earplugs all do an excellent job of reducing the sound level entering your ear canals if used properly and consistently. Remember, noise-induced hearing loss tends to occur gradually over repeated exposure to excessive noise. So, if you have noisy hobbies such as woodworking or regularly listen to live music, it is important to consistently wear hearing protection as this damage can build up over time.
It is also important for everyone to have their hearing tested on a regular basis (see hearing test guidelines here!). This is especially important for people who work in noisy environments or are who are regularly exposed to excessive noise so any development of noise-induced hearing loss can be monitored closely.
If you or a loved one may be experiencing noise-induced hearing loss, call us today to schedule a hearing test! If hearing loss is present, there are many options for treatment with a variety of different hearing instruments available today. If you worked in a noisy workplace, you may be entitled to coverage for hearing healthcare through third party organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs or Workers Compensation. Our hearing care professionals will guide you through your journey to better hearing.