A Complete Guide to Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

a hand touching the ear of a brown haired woman

Our aural landscape is a massive part of our sensory experience of the world. It’s quite literally the soundtrack to our days, and every happy memory we have can be summoned by imagining the sounds that accompanied the moment, from cheers at our graduations to the laughter of our children as they play. 

And yet for millions of Americans, noise induced hearing loss is a real issue. The National Institute of Health states that a huge 17 percent of adults aged 20-69 have permanently damaged their hearing through too much exposure to noise – that’s a total of 26 million people. 

You could be at risk from poor use of audio devices, through a job that involves exposure to loud noise or even from nightclubs and sports games. It’s a shocking thought when you consider how vital our hearing is and how much we stand to lose if we don’t protect it. 

The good news is that noise induced hearing loss is something that you can take action on and prevent with a few simple steps.

What is noise related hearing loss?

Temporary or more longer lasting hearing loss is something most of us have experienced – coming out of a loud concert perhaps, or turning up the volume on our headphones too far. It happens when the millions of tiny hair cells that conduct noise in the ear canal become damaged with excessive noise. Sometimes, this damage can occur after a single isolated exposure to loud noise, such as an explosion. In other people, it’s something that builds up gradually over time.

If you’re fortunate, the damage will be temporary, but it can also be permanent and lasting – in one ear, or in both. You see, those little hairs are incredibly important to our hearing. They’re what allows our brains and our auditory nerves to work together to process sounds. Once damage occurs, or these hair cells are killed off, they do not come back. And damage done to these hair cells is cumulative – meaning that the effects add up gradually over time.

You could do a minor amount of damage over a lot of occasions, and each time it would be making your hearing worse irreversibly. The damage manifests as a loss in your hearing range – meaning you can no longer hear certain pitches or frequencies of sound – or as tinnitus, a constant dull ringing or high-pitched buzzing sound. Sometimes this may improve over time, but for others it’s always there.

What is a safe noise level?

Generally, humans can be exposed to sounds of less than 80 decibels without incurring any damage. Noises above 85 decibels are dangerous to hearing health with prolonged or repeated exposure. A 100-decibel sound would only be safe for 15 minutes before it would start to cause lasting damage to your hearing. To put it in context, a jet taking off would be around 130 decibels and fireworks 145 decibels. Normal level conversation comes in at about 50 decibels.

Why does noise related hearing loss matter?

Quite apart from the loss of function, or even the discomfort of living with persistent tinnitus, loss of hearing is actually linked to a number of other serious health complications, such as depression, increased risk of dementia, heart disease and diabetes. So, if you get a diagnosis of hearing loss, there is a lot at stake. This means that understanding your risk and taking steps to prevent damage is highly important.

How can I protect myself?

Luckily, there are easy steps you can take to safeguard your hearing in noisy environments:

  • Wear protective earplugs: You can obtain custom molded earplugs via your hearing instrument specialist. These allow you to hear while reducing volume by around 30 decibels to protect your hearing. Wear them at noisy concerts, sporting events or when using machinery around the house and garden.
  • Stick to 60/60: If you have your headphones in, make it a rule never to listen to music at above 60 percent of the volume range, and for no more than 60 minutes per day. Your phone may have a volume control you can set to help you with this.
  • Take a break: If you do have to be in a noisy environment for a longer period of time, try to give yourself a break from the noise by ducking outside every so often – and schedule in at least 18 hours of quiet time immediately following your loud event.

Taking some simple precautions could dramatically reduce your risk of noise induced hearing loss. To check your hearing today, and learn more about keeping your ears healthy, contact Hearing Science of the Foothills, Inc. at (818) 698-8056.