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5/10/2018

What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Exposure to noise may not seem like a significant threat, but it can impact your hearing in pretty significant ways. There are both temporary and permanent forms of hearing loss caused by exposure to noise, and they can occur in one or both ears. Learning how to prevent or reduce exposure to noise is a critical way to protect your hearing health and preventing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Loud and/or Long-Lasting

About 15% of American adults (aged 20-69) have noise-related hearing loss, which can be commonly experienced at both work and play. Sometimes noise can cause something called a temporary threshold shift–a reversible type of hearing loss commonly caused by sounds like gunshots and firecrackers or as a result of tinnitus.

But when sounds are too loud (even briefly), too loud and long-lasting, or even too close, permanent damage to the inner ear can result in a noise-induced hearing loss. The louder the sound, the faster NIHL occurs.

How Noise Damages Hearing

For us to hear, our ears essentially transform sound waves in the air into electrical signals that are carried by the auditory nerve for interpretation in the brain. Tiny hair cells that sit on top of the ear’s basilar membrane are a major player in this process, and most cases of NIHL are due to damage to these hair cells (which can’t grow back). For an in-depth breakdown of how we hear, see a summary from National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders the below.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss at Work

Exposure to sounds over an extended period, such as in a factory or when using power tools, can cause NIHL. Long or repeated exposure to sounds over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. To help identify if you may need hearing protection at work, consider these common sounds and be sure to check guidelines from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration:

  • Refrigerator hum = 45 decibels
  • City traffic = 85 decibels
  • Lawnmower, power tools = 90 decibels
  • Chainsaw, pneumatic drill = 100 decibels
  • Sirens = 120 decibels
  • Firecrackers, firearms, jet engine = 150 decibels

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss at Play

Recreational activities and hobbies can also be a source of risk. Hunting or shooting and snowmobiling are two common examples of hobbies with prolonged or sudden exposure to loud noise. Here are some other common everyday occurrences:

  • Conversation, sewing machine = 60 decibels
  • Motorcycle = 95 decibels
  • Snowmobile = 100 decibels
  • Headphone music at max volume = 105 decibels

Hearing loss can often occur over a period of years, but its painless nature can make it difficult to keep track of. If you think you may be experiencing a change in your hearing or are concerned about noise-induced hearing loss, book a consultation with us to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself.

We are hearing experts.

Robert M. Traynor, Ed.D. MBA is the owner and senior audiologist on staff. Dr. Traynor has treated patients in Greeley for more than 40 years and is a widely published expert, audiology professor, and advisor to many leading hearing companies. Learn more about Dr. Traynor.