Preventing Noise Induced Hearing Loss

By Anita Giles MS, CCC-A
Physicians Hearing Center

Our noisy world can take a toll on the delicate structures of the inner ear. Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound, which has adverse impact on auditory and non-auditory health. “Noise pollution” can result in permanent loss of hearing and is a public health threat. Hazardous levels of noise vibrate the inner ear hair cells with such force that it damages their ability to send electrical signals to the brain. Our ears’ ability to detect, recognize and make sense of sound depends on these electrical signals.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) can happen at any age. It is irreversible and worsens over time. The most vulnerable ears belong to children and teens. It is estimated that 1 in 7 children and adolescents (ages 6-19 years) and 1 in 4 adults (ages 20-69 years) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive noise exposure. Harmful noise exposure can come from toys, band practice, woodworking, movies, concerts, sporting events, hobbies, lawn equipment, shooting guns, fireworks, etc. The use of headphones/earbuds with Personal Audio Systems (PAS) has increased the risk of NIHL for all ages, especially children. PAS use is unsafe when sound channeled directly into the ear is played at high levels.
Symptoms of NIHL include the inability to distinguish high frequency sounds like “s”, “f”, “th” and “sh”, causing words like “shell”, “sell”, and “fell” hard to tell apart. It is difficult to understand what other people are saying, especially when it is noisy. Other people may notice that you talk loudly. You may have tinnitus—ringing, roaring or buzzing sounds in your ears or experience discomfort to loud sounds.

Pay attention to noise levels at work and play. How long, how often and how close to the loud sound you are increases the risk of noise damage.

Sound is too loud when:

You have to speak louder to hear each other or are unable to hear someone 3 feet away from you.
After exposure, your hearing is dull or muffled or you have ear pain or ringing in the ears.

5 ways to protect your hearing:
• Lower the volume
• Move away from the noise
• Take breaks from the noise
• Avoid loud, noisy activities and places
• Use hearing protection

If you can’t avoid noise, protect your hearing. Hearing Protection Devices (HPDs) like earplugs and earmuffs reduce the level of sound entering your ear but do not completely block out all sounds. HPDs must fit properly to provide protection. Earmuffs should be snug on the head and seal around the ear to be effective. PAS use can be made safer with well-fitting headphones, deeper fitting earbuds or transducers with noise cancelling or limiting features and the listening level set below 50% volume setting.

Be Aware of noise–Take Action to prevent noise damage to your ears. If you are concerned, have your hearing checked.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss can be prevented.

Educational Resources:
Noisy Planet
Dangerous Decibels
Ear Peace Foundation
Know Your Noise

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
The Hearing Journal

Personal Audio Systems Unsafe At Any Sound By Jan Mayes, MSc, and Daniel Fink, MD
Noise as a Public Health Hazard By Jamie Banks, PhD, MSc, and Daniel Fink, MD, MBA
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: What Your Patients Don’t Know Can Hurt Them By Gina Shaw
Too Loud: Noise Exposure in Everyday Life is Causing Hearing Loss By Daniel Fink, MD, and Jan Mayes, MSc
Protecting Infant’s and Children’s Hearing By Sophie Balk, MD and Daniel Fink, MD

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