Have you ever left a concert hall or sporting event and heard ringing in your ears or found it difficult to hear well for the next few hours? Hearing health professionals call that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Although normal hearing is often restored within a few hours in these circumstances, constant exposure to excessive noise causes permanent hearing loss and may be the number one reason so many individuals over the age of 65 have trouble hearing.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20-69 (26 million) have high frequency hearing loss most likely caused by NIHL. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 5.2 million of our children between the ages of 6-19 have suffered permanent damage to their hearing as a result of NIHL.
Symptoms of NIHL range from temporary loss of hearing to tinnitus to various degrees of permanent hearing loss. A sudden, loud noise such as a gun shot or explosion can create the same effect.
How does loud noise damage your hearing? Scientists believe it’s because loud noise, or constant exposure to it, creates molecules that damage hair cells in the inner ear responsible for translating noise into sound vibrations for the auditory nerve to carry to the brain. Each hair cell is responsible for detecting a different frequency. Once these hair cells are damaged they do not regenerate, causing permanent hearing loss.
Fortunately, it is possible to protect your hearing from NIHL. First, understand what “normal” noise levels are. Sound is measured in decibels and safe noise levels register 85 dB or lower. For example, average city traffic registers 80 dB and normal conversation 50-65 dB. Prolonged exposure to noise levels higher than 85 dB can permanently damage your hearing. Noise in those concert halls and sporting event stadiums we mentioned earlier can register levels between 110-140 dB, a shotgun firing and jet takeoff measure 130 dB.
So what else can you do to protect your hearing from NIHL? Of course, keeping your distance from noisy environments is the best option, but that’s not always possible.
If you know you’re headed into a potentially noisy situation, purchase some inexpensive foam earplugs from the local drugstore or invest in a good pair of earmuffs to wear. If you find yourself without them, try to find a seat away from the speakers or amplification system and/or take a break by walking outside the venue every so often.
Finally, be diligent about the levels at which you listen to electronics, such as the stereo and television, at home. Keep the volume as low as you can without straining to hear. Encourage your children and grandchildren to do the same – especially on their personal electronic devices.