Audiologist Doing A Hearing Test

Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

For those who live in cities, there is a tendency to see noise as simply a nuisance, and an unavoidable part of life. But noise can do more damage than people realize.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a preventable cause of sensorineural hearing loss, which according to the American Hearing Loss Foundation, is the most common type of hearing loss in the US. It occurs in 23 percent of people over the age of 65.

Noise is not sound

Let’s take a look at the sound-noise distinction. They aren’t the same as some might imagine. Sound is the waves of energy that pass through the air and into our ears. It can be welcome or unwelcome. Noise is considered unwelcome sound, whether it is the screech of the tracks on a commuter train, the cry of a baby, or the blare of the PA speaker at a show.

How much noise is too much?

We need to look at decibel levels to answer this question.

Sounds below 85 dB are deemed safe. Things such as normal conversation, refrigerator buzz, listening to the television at a low volume are all safe sounds. However, once you’re exposed to sounds more powerful than 85 dB, your inner ear’s fragile structures risk permanent damage, and your hearing health will be compromised.

How hearing is damaged by noise

NIHL often occurs slowly and painlessly. One person may experience ringing in the ears or hearing problems after exposure to loud noise. This is considered a “temporary shift in threshold”.  This temporary change in listening returns to normal after a few hours (or in some cases, a few days). But this temporary change in hearing can become permanent with prolonged exposure.

Excessive noise damages the fragile cells of the inner ear. When permanent hearing loss has occurred, these inner ear cells can’t be restored. The damage is permanent.

Who is likely to suffer from NIHL?

People of all age ranges, from kids to seniors, can develop NIHL.

A 2011-2012 report of the Center for Disease Control showed that in the United States, at least 10 million adults under 70 and up to 40 million adults in total had hearing damage from exposure to excessive noise. Studies also report that up to 17 percent of teenagers, aged 12 to 19, have signs of NIHL in one or both ears.

How can I prevent NIHL?

Luckily, there are things you can do to prevent NIHL. You should be able to continue listening to your favorite sounds for a long time if you take certain precautionary measures. Here are some of the most effective ways to keep your ears safe.:

  • Use earplugs:Don’t leave the earplugs at home when you’re going to be at live shows, sporting events, or night clubs. Also, you should wear ear protection when doing yard work, engaging in recreational shooting, or spending time around other loud machinery. Ear protection can minimize your exposure to noise by 20-30 decibels, and you will still be able to enjoy the music. We even offer custom-fitted hearing protection, which is both more comfortable and effective at blocking out noise than regular hearing protection.
  • Follow the 60/60 rule: Listen with a personal audio system to music for less than 60 minutes a day and not at more than 60 percent volume. Many smartphones allow you to set a volume limit, which is less than the actual sound capacity of your handset. Put this at 60 percent and in the future you don’t have to think about it.
  • Use a sound meter app:Several smartphone apps can track your smartphone volume level for you. When you’re in an area with excessive noise, they will send you a warning that your hearing is likely to be affected.
  • Get your hearing checked:As in other types of acquired hearing loss, hearing loss caused by noise occurs slowly and may not be noticeable to you immediately. The easiest way to keep on top of your hearing safety is to get a regular hearing check.

Able Hearing offer complete hearing evaluations and can determine how your hearing is doing, and we can also offer further advice on maintaining your hearing health for the future.