What is Noise-induced hearing loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a permanent hearing impairment that is a direct result of over-exposure to loud noise. Hearing loss is caused by irreversible damage to the inner ear and results in poor hearing capabilities.
In the past 20 years, hearing loss has become more common in the younger generations. Some have suggested that this rise in hearing loss in younger populations is in part due to the rise in availability and mobility of devices such as phones, music players, and earphones.
Causes of Noise-induced hearing loss
Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by overexposure to loud noises, or sounds. Not all sounds damage our hearing. The volume of a sound and the length of exposure determines whether or not a sound is detrimental to our hearing.
The scientific measure of the volume of a sound is by its “intensity,” which is quantified by a logarithmic decibel (dB) scale that is referenced by the quietest sound (0 dB) a human ear can hear. The louder the sound, the higher the decibel measure.
Sounds at or below 90 dB (lawn mower, street traffic) are relatively safe for extended periods of time (approximately 8 hours). However, sounds at 100 dB (chainsaw or snowmobile) are safe for a maximum of only 2 hours a day. Sounds at 115 dB (loud rock concert) should only be endured for 15 minutes per day without protection.
Effects of Noise-induced hearing loss
Hearing loss effects people in a number of different physical and psychological ways (see hearing loss and risk of falls). Those with hearing loss often struggle to participate in daily conversation, regular social activities, and entertainment such as music or movies. Since noise-induced hearing loss develops over a number of years, individuals often think nothing is wrong with their hearing and instead blame others for mumbling. Inability to participate in daily activities and social gatherings often lead to feelings of isolation and depression.
How is Noise-induced hearing loss diagnosed?
Noise-induced hearing loss painlessly develops over the period of several years. As a result, many people in danger of losing their hearing do not realize it until it is too late. Tinnitus – ringing in the ear – is a common early warning sign of hearing loss. However, noise-induced hearing loss is formally diagnosed through a “hearing test” performed by a hearing care professional such as an otolaryngologist.
As we get older, our hearing inevitably declines. However, there are steps you can take to prevent hearing damage. Wearing hearing protection such as earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones in noisy vehicles, at concerts, or in a loud work environments will help reduce your chances of losing your hearing. When listening to music, opt for speakers and headphones instead of earbuds and keep the volume to a maximum of 60%.
Treatment of Noise-induced hearing loss
Although noise-induced hearing loss currently has no known cure, hearing impairments can be assisted through hearing devices such as hearing aids and implants. Hearing aids do not permanently “fix” the impairment but they offer individuals with hearing loss a way to reclaim their lives. Modern hearing aids are now easy to conceal and enable those with hearing loss to communicate and participate in social interactions.