What is it?
Noise-induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is permanent damage to the sensitive hearing organ, the cochlea, and or auditory nerve, caused by exposure to loud sounds in the environment. The effects can be immediate or may take time to become noticeable and the hearing loss can be temporary or permanent depending on the damage done. It can affect one or both ears and can be happening even if you aren’t aware of any pain.
It can be difficult to know if you have Noise-induced Hearing Loss as it can be very gradual in its onset and hard to notice over time. It can happen at any time and at any age.
Some signs that you may have NIHL are an inability to hear high-pitched sounds, difficulty hearing conversations in noisy spaces, and hearing only muffled sounds when attempting to hear speech at a distance.
Over time, if left untreated, your hearing can continue to deteriorate and you may find yourself losing lower frequencies too. This can make understanding speech very difficult.
How is it caused?
We’re all exposed to all kinds of sounds every day, from television to traffic and everything in-between. These noises vary in volume and duration, but sudden one-off loud sounds or sustained exposure to noise at an uncomfortable or dangerous level, can result in overstimulation and damage to the nerve hair cells and cochlea itself.
Prolonged exposure to sounds higher than 85 decibels such as leaf-blowers or jackhammers can cause hearing loss, as can one-time exposure to impulse sounds, like fireworks, a motorcycle or sirens. You can also cause damage to your hearing by listening to loud music through personal headphones for long periods, or if you play in a band.
The microscopic hair cells in your ears, which move up and down to transmit sound waves to the auditory nerve (which in turn translates the signals), become damaged and die when noise levels are dangerously loud.
Distance from the sound and its duration are factors in how much damage will be done.
What can you do to prevent it?
Sadly, once the damage is done, it is irreversible.
But the good news is that Noise-induced Hearing Loss is preventable.
Here are some things you can do to help prevent Noise-induced Hearing Loss:
- Be aware of which noises can cause damage. Generally those above 85 decibels.
- Wear earplugs when operating noisy machinery or involved in other loud activities.
- Move away from loud noises if you can’t reduce them.
- Protect the hearing of children.
- Spread the word to protect the safety of family, loved ones and others nearby when at noisy events.
- Get your hearing tested by an audio specialist as soon as possible if you suspect you may be suffering hearing loss.
Your hearing is precious and should be protected and maintained by every means possible. If should avoid doing unnecessary damage if you can.