Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Roughly 48 million people in the U.S or 20% of the population have hearing loss. While hearing loss can be a normal part of natural aging process, it can also be brought on sooner by injury, illness, infection or loud noise that you experience throughout your life. In fact, one of the leading causes of hearing loss is noise-induced hearing loss.
What is Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
Each and every day, we’re exposed to excessive noise, from noisy workplaces to traffic noise and even household noises like appliances, the vacuum cleaner, or the TV. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is hearing loss caused by over exposure to all these loud noises in our environment. The sounds of traffic or the hum of an air conditioner won’t harm your ears at first but if you are exposed to some everyday sounds the effects can conglomerate into noise induced hearing damage. NIHL can be sudden or gradual. Hearing loss can also happen suddenly if you are exposed to an extremely loud noise like a gunshot or engine backfire in close proximity to your ear. It only takes a second for your hearing to be permanently damaged.
Decibel Levels and Hearing loss
So how loud is too loud? To answer this question, we need to talk about decibel levels. Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after a lengthy exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However extended or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (approximately the level of a vacuum cleaner) can cause hearing loss. Most governments regulate noise exposure for safety reasons and the most commonly used maximum acceptable noise exposure level is 85 decibels over eight hours.
What Sounds Cause Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
As many as 30 million Americans are exposed to potentially harmful sound levels in their workplaces. Outside of work, many persons pursue recreational activities that can produce harmful noise such as power tools, amplified music and recreational vehicles such as motorcycles. Once you understand the danger of decibels over 85 the danger becomes clearer. Some tools you use around the house, like the lawnmower or leaf blower, can be around 100-110 dB, so be sure you’re wearing hearing protection. Hearing loss caused by noise can occur in people of any age. It may happen suddenly or gradually. How soon it happens depends on the source and intensity of the noise.
Whether a noise is harmful depends on how loud it is and how long you’re around it.
Noise can affect hearing in several ways.
- Occupational noise is one of the most common sources of harmful noise. That’s mainly because you are around it all day for years.
- A sudden, extremely loud sound. An unexpected explosion, a gunshot, or a firecracker close to the ear, can damage any of the fragile structures in the ear permanently.
- Loud sounds (like a rock concert) can cause a temporary ringing and hearing loss. These effects usually don’t last more than a few hours. But they may sometimes last several days or weeks.
- Repeated, frequent exposureto loud sounds over a period of years can cause permanent hearing loss. These sounds include recreation and daily activities such as:
- High-volume music.
- The noise of power tools, like chainsaws or electric drills.
- The noise from lawn mowers, household appliances (such as blenders and vacuum cleaners), and vehicles (such as snowmobiles and motorcycles).
Treating Noise Induced Hearing Loss
The good news is that noise induced hearing loss can usually be prevented by preparing ahead of time and making sure you use ear protection when appropriate and keep the volume on your personal listen devices below 60% of its volume capacity. If you are unsure if a sound is safe you can test its decibel using a Smartphone application. You’ll be shocked to realize how many everyday sounds are harmful to our ears. If you have noise induced hearing loss, it’s time to do something about it. Untreated hearing loss can lead to a host of related problems like depression, increased risk of injury, lack of earning power and dementia. Don’t let your hearing loss go untreated. Contact us at GN Audiology for all your hearing needs and stay fit and hearing healthy for years to come.