Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Do you ever feel like you are in situations where you leave with ringing in your ears? This sensation may subside, but this doesn’t mean it wasn’t harmless. It signifies that you have been exposed to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). 

The Prevalence of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is commonly mistaken as a condition that only affects people of advanced age. Now, due to a world that is ever becoming louder, we can no longer rely on this assumption. The Cleveland Clinic reports that NIHL affects approximately: 5.2 million children and teens between ages 6 to 19. with 26 million adults between the ages of 20 and 69 making it a hearing loss that affects people across generations. NIHL can happen to anyone exposed to sound constantly past a safe listening threshold.

Dangerous Decibels

The intensity or loudness of sound is measured in decibels. Any decibel level which exceeds 85dB can start to damage hearing – however it won’t happen all at once. It takes a constant exposure of eight hours or more at 85dB for damage to occur. However, as the decibels rise the loudness doubles by 10. For comparison at 95 decibels – ten decibels higher— a sound is 100 times louder. It takes a constant exposure of 95dB under an hour for the same damage to occur. 

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

When sounds exceed safe listening levels, they damage our ears causing permanent hearing loss. This nature of loss is called sensorineural and is connected to damage in the inner ear. When a sound passed 85dB it causes vibrations to travel down the inner ear. Inside the ear canal is the cochlea, a tiny snail-shaped organ and within it lies tiny hair-like cells called stereocilia surrounded in fluid. When sound is too loud it causes the tiny stereocilia to vibrate too wildly against the membrane cell wall which holds them causing them to become damaged or destroyed. When this occurs, individuals are left with lasting and irreversible damage.

Being Vigilant with Hearing Protection

With the understanding that exposure to loud sound is permanently damaging, It is important to stay vigilant about protecting your ears whenever you can. The most effective way to do so is to wear hearing protection, which can lower the decibel level by 15-33dB. Foam earplugs and fitted earplugs are the most portables, while for industrial applications many enjoy protective earmuffs. It is up to you to know when and where your hearing is being put at risk. For many, this happens in workplace settings where it is common for a person to normalize an 8 hour or more exposure. Workplaces are required by OSHA to provide hearing protection at no cost to the employee, but it is up to you to wear it right. Even hearing protection worn incorrectly is no protection at all.

Addressing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

While NIHL starts in the ears it quickly affects how we communicate. It can be difficult to diagnose because it often starts subtly over years and by the time it progresses to acute hearing loss, we’ve normalized it. It often takes co-workers, loved ones, and family to point out that a hearing loss may be present. It’s important to take these suggestions seriously. Unaddressed hearing loss can create huge barriers at home, with friends, and in the workplace. You may feel that the people around you mumble or don’t speak clearly enough, but it could actually be a sign of hearing loss. 

Others may perceive you as just not paying attention, seeming distracted, or disinterested in what they have to say. This can build resentment at home with family and your significant other. A work it can cause employers to undervalue your contribution to a workplace that may have caused your hearing loss in the first place. 

Seeking Treatment

While NIHL causes permeant hearing loss it is not untreatable. Hearing aids are the most common treatment and can amplify sounds that you may not have heard in years. These amazing tiny electronic devices fit behind the ears and can be programmed to amplify all the sounds you struggle with. Once you get used to hearing aids they will open doorways and opportunities for you at work and within your relationships. To find out if you have NIHL or any other hearing issues it is important to act today. Schedule a hearing consultation today!

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