Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the leading causes of permanent hearing loss, but it is 100 percent preventable if you take the correct measures. Ten million of the 40 million individuals who have hearing loss have been diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss, according to the American Speech and Hearing Association.
When an individual is exposed to a noise, as loud as a lawn mower, for more than 8 hours at a time, permanent damage most likely has occurred. The louder the noise, the less exposure time is needed to cause hearing loss.
There are two primary types of hazardous noises: occupational noise, meaning factory or mechanical work, and recreational noise, like lawn equipment, loud music, power tools, firearms, motorcycles, etc. Unfortunately, there are unexpected noises that are difficult to predict, such as a loud explosion, or even a child’s toy. Studies have shown some children’s toys can emit sounds up to 120 dBA, which equates to the level of a jackhammer.
Once the ear has been exposed to these sounds longer than the recommended exposure time, the tiny hair cells in the inner ear become damaged, and are unable to recover. This has an effect not only on one’s ability to hear sounds, but also on the ability to understand speech. NIHL also may present as a temporary threshold shift (TTS) after exposure to excessive levels of noise. A TTS is a hearing loss that will recover over time, after exposure to the noise has ended. Research has shown that repeated TTS eventually leads to a permanent threshold shift.
We live in a noisy world that does not seem to be getting any quieter. It is up to you to be aware of the noises around you and protect your ears. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides several strategies to help prevent noise induced hearing loss.
- Become educated on the noise levels around you and the effect they can have on your hearing. There are even smartphone apps to help you measure environmental noise levels.
- Use hearing protection and limit sound exposure time. You always can increase the distance between yourself and hazardous noise, which reduces the intensity of damaging sound delivered to your ears.
- Remember to protect those who are young, and inform family and friends of the dangers.
- Have your hearing tested annually by a doctor of audiology.
By Dr. Christa Nelms, contributing writer, Doctor of Audiology and provider at North Georgia Audiology & Hearing Aid Center.