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Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the third most common health condition people live with today. There are a variety of factors that can cause hearing loss including aging, head injuries, and inner ear disorders. One of the most common causes of impaired hearing is noise. One time or constant exposure to excess noise levels can produce noise induced hearing loss which can occur at once or gradually as well as be experienced to varying degrees (mild to profound). It is important to know that this type of hearing loss is totally preventable. Practicing simple safety measures can minimize the impact of loud noise and protect hearing health.   

What causes noise induced hearing loss? 

Noise induced hearing loss can be caused by exposure to noise one time or continuous exposure over a longer period of time. Sound is measured in decibels (dB) and sound at or above 85dB can contribute to development of hearing loss. 85dB is the equivalent of busy traffic or a hair dryer which doesn’t appear to be particularly loud. This highlights that we are exposed to everyday noises that are potentially impactful for hearing health. 

The Hearing Health Foundation estimates that 22 million people are exposed to hazardous levels of noise in the workplace annually. Additionally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1 billion people globally are at high risk of developing noise induced hearing loss. The source of this noise exposure is listening to audio from personal electronic devices or being exposed to loud noise in social settings. Listening to music through headphones, attending sporting events, and going to concerts can produce noise levels between 94-110dB!  

What are common symptoms? 

Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear by desensitizing them. This prevents them from converting incoming sound waves into electrical signals which is a critical step in how sound is processed. This prevents the brain from receiving auditory information which results in various symptoms that create hearing challenges. This includes: 

  • Tinnitus: a buzzing, ringing, or clicking like noise in one or both ears. 
  • Sounds are muffled, slurred, or distorted. 
  • Difficulty identifying individual words. 
  • Asking others to repeat themselves or speak louder. 
  • Lip reading to help distinguish words. 
  • Having a hard time following a conversation, missing parts of what others are saying. 
  • Being able to hear more clearly from one ear compared to the other. 
  • Feeling fatigued after conversations and social interactions. 
  • Needing to move to a quieter space to hear better. 
  • Pretending to hear, struggling to keep up during a conversation. 

These symptoms can be mild to profound depending on the degree of impairment present. Untreated hearing loss symptoms often strains communication and lead to social withdrawal. Because conversations become challenging, people can avoid them as much as possible. This includes skipping out on social events and  spending less time with others. Social withdrawal contributes to depressive symptoms like loneliness, depression, isolation etc. 

How can noise induced hearing loss be prevented?

Noise induced hearing loss is completely preventable. Practicing safety measures that protect your ears and hearing minimizes the impact of loud noise. You can do this by practicing the following tips: 

  • Wear hearing protection: there are various types of hearing protection including headphones, earplugs, earmuffs etc. This creates a protective barrier for the ears, reducing the amount of loud noise you absorb and its impact. 
  • Invest in noise canceling headphones: if you listen to audio (podcasts, music, audiobooks etc.) frequently, it might be useful to invest in noise canceling headphones. This technology is designed to minimize background noise as much as possible which prevents people from increasing the volume when moving through environments that are noisier. This allows people to listen to audio safety. 
  • Reduce noise exposure:  there are numerous ways you can reduce your exposure to loud noise including maintaining lower volume settings on electronic devices, avoiding noisier settings like restaurants during peak hours, taking alternate routes to avoid construction sites etc.
  • Take listening breaks: taking listening breaks throughout the day where you are not directly absorbing noise is a great way to provide your ears and brain with reprieve and rest from constantly absorbing and processing sound.
  • Have hearing tested: incorporating hearing tests into annual health screenings is a great way to check-in and track your hearing health. 

Contact us to learn more about how you can protect your hearing health and wellness.