Every single day we come across new sounds within our environments, most of which are at safe levels for hearing. Extremely loud sounds however, can damage the delicate structures of the inner ear and cause noise-induced hearing loss. These noises can be extremely loud just for a short time, or long-lasting and loud, either way they can damage our hearing.
Noise-induced hearing loss can cause hearing problems in one or both ears, can be temporary or permanent and can be immediate or gradual. It may not be noticeable at first and can affect people in different ways. People of all ages can be affected and the cause can be a variety of reasons.
Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by prolonged exposure to loud sounds or just a one-time exposure to an extremely thunderous noise. Activities that could cause hearing loss include listening to music at high volumes, nightclubs and concerts, shooting and hunting, using power tools, water-sports and sporting events. Prolonged sounds over 85 decibels are harmful to hearing, where a normal conversation is about 60 decibels, a lawnmower is 90 decibels and a concert around 120 decibels. The amount of time and the distance from the source of the noise will also affect how severe the hearing loss is. Loud sounds cause hearing loss as they can rupture the ear drum, damage the bones in the middle ear or damage the auditory nerves that transfer sounds from the inner ear to the brain.
Hearing loss that is noise-induced can be sudden or gradual, so the signs may not be obvious at first. Sounds may be unclear and muffled, listening to other people speak can be more difficult and the volume for the TV or music may need turning up higher than usual. Loud noise exposure can also cause tinnitus, where a constant ringing or buzzing occurs in the ears or head.
Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the only hearing problems that is completely preventable. Prevention’s include:
- Know which places and devices are too loud and can cause damage. There are apps available to download on smartphones that can tell you when something or somewhere is too loud, these include Sound Meter, deciBel, dB Volume Meter, Too Loud? and Decibel 10th.
- If you have to be in a place with loud activity, wear earplugs or other protective ear wear such as ear muffs. There are also high-fidelity earplugs that are available to buy that lower sounds but keep the clarity, such as Ety plugs.
- Move as far away from the source of the noise as possible.
- Protect the ears of children who are unable to cover their own ears.
- Have your hearing tested to make sure it is normal, and not getting worse.
If listening to music or sounds through headphones, do not listen higher than 60% of the maximum volume. Less than 60 minutes at a time is enough not to risk any hearing damage, more however can be problematic.
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