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Understanding noise-induced hearing loss

Whether you’re an avid concert goer or work in a loud environment, noise-induced hearing loss is no small matter. Learn more about noise-induced hearing loss, what causes it, and how you can prevent and manage the symptoms.
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What is noise-induced hearing loss?

The danger of loud noise

Can you believe the sound you hear is all thanks to tiny little hair cells in your inner ear? As sound waves travel through the air and reach those hair cells, they’re transformed into a signal that your brain recognizes as sound. If these hair cells are damaged, hearing loss is often the result which is illustrated with the image below.

So, what can damage these cells? Loud noise is a common culprit. Constant exposure to loud noise overstimulates and damages them overtime, leading to noise-induced hearing loss. This typically takes place in the part of the ear that recognizes high-frequency sounds, making it difficult to understand certain parts of speech.

If you believe you’re living with noise-induced hearing loss, a hearing evaluation is a great first step in better understanding your hearing abilities and learning how to tackle the symptoms.

Noise induced hearing loss
Causes

When are decibels dangerous?

The cause of noise-induced hearing loss is - you guessed it - noise. In a busy, bustling world, loud sounds are all around us. Chainsaws and power tools may be the first thing to come to mind, but even long exposure to noise from a hair dryer or your smoothie maker can do harm to the tiny hair cells in your inner ear. That’s right, even sounds that appear comfortable can be harmful after a while.

Noise-induced hearing loss can result from one-time exposure, such as an extremely loud explosion, or exposure to loud noise overtime. The distance from the source, the duration of exposure and the decibel level all come into play. Long or repeated exposure to sounds over 85 dB is likely to cause damage over time.

Hearing loss and noise audiogram
Signs and symptoms

Recognize noise-induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss can present itself in many ways and, since it can come on gradually, symptoms may not always be apparent. If any of the following signs apply to you, you may be living with noise-induced hearing loss. Not sure what to do next? Our online hearing screening is a great first step.
  • People sound like they mumble
    You can hear people, but speech is not always clear and it can be hard to understand. They might sound muffled.
  • Always turning up the volume
    You may find yourself turning up the TV volume or asking others to speak up or repeat themselves.
  • Trouble in noisy places and over the phone
    You may struggle to hear others in crowded environments or understand telephone conversations.
  • Ringing in the ear and hypersensitivity to sound
    You may be experiencing tinnitus or find certain sounds painful to hear.
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Noise-induced hearing loss audiogram

Decoding your hearing screening results

Noise-induced hearing loss generally affects higher frequencies, such as not being able to hear birds chirping, doorbells and phones ringing as well as struggling to hear women’s and children’s voices. This results in an audiogram notch or dip at around 4,000 Hz. Depending on the severity of the hearing loss, this notch can deepen and widen into lower frequencies as well.

Since aging can also affect hearing abilities, this notch may become less prominent overtime as more frequencies are affected. Noise-induced hearing loss is often symmetrical and will affect both ears.

Audiograms can help you better understand the nature and severity of your hearing loss, making them a great tool for establishing proper treatment methods.

The chart demonstrates how noise-induced hearing loss can progress if left untreated.

More about audiograms
Noise Induced hearing loss audiogram
Prevention

Saving your hearing from noise-induced damage

By taking the following steps to protect your hearing, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss and ensure that your hearing stays healthy for years to come.
  • Use earplugs or earmuffs
    When you know you'll be exposed to loud noise, such as working with power tools or attending a concert, wear hearing protection.
  • Keep the volume down
    When using headphones or earbuds, listen at a moderate volume. As a general rule of thumb, if others can hear the sound coming from your headphones, the volume is too high.
  • Take breaks
    If you work in a noisy environment, try to take frequent breaks to give your ears a rest. Ideally, you should limit your exposure to loud noise to less than 8 hours a day.
Ear muffs
Treatment

Dealing with noise-induced hearing loss


  • Hearing aids
    Amplification devices can help amplify sounds and make them more audible.
  • Cochlear implants
    Cochlear implants can provide a sense of sound to those with severe or profound hearing loss.
  • Speech therapy
    Therapy can help improve communication skills and strategies.
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Did you know?

26 million Americans are at risk

Noise-induced hearing loss is estimated to affect 15% of adults in the United States. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) states that about 26 million American adults between the ages of 20 and 69 have high-frequency hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise at work or during leisure activities.
Expert advice

Use your smartphone

Be aware of the decibel levels of the sounds you are exposed to and limit your exposure to loud sounds that are 85 decibels or higher.  You can use a smartphone app or a sound level meter to measure the decibel level of the sounds around you.

Noise-induced hearing loss: FAQ

What type of hearing loss is caused by loud noises?

Do hearing aids help noise-induced hearing loss?

What frequencies are affected by noise-induced hearing loss?

Does noise-induced hearing loss get worse over time?

Can you recover from noise-induced hearing loss?

How can noise-induced hearing loss be prevented?

Online Hearing Test
Online hearing screening

Take a free online hearing screening

Do you suspect that you have hearing loss? Try our free online hearing screening.
Free online hearing screening

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