What to Know About Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Among the many types of hearing loss, noise-induced loss is one of the most common. Although this type of hearing loss is quite prevalent—with an estimated 10 to 40 million Americans under age 70 having some form of noise-induced loss—there remains some misunderstanding about the condition. You might find yourself wondering how noise-induced hearing loss occurs, what risks you face in your life, and what you can do if you find out that you have noise-induced hearing loss. Let’s take a moment to unpack these aspects of noise-induced hearing loss, giving us a better sense of the condition, prevention, and treatment. It is important to keep in mind that a hearing test is the only way to determine if you have some form of noise-induced hearing loss, so scheduling your exam is the best step you can take to get the help you need.
How does noise-induced hearing loss occur?
Hearing loss comes in many forms and arises from many causes, including the natural aging process, injury to the head, certain illnesses, or exposure to certain ototoxic chemicals that can damage hearing. As opposed to these other causes, noise-induced hearing loss can happen in a sudden event or slowly over a long period of time. This form of hearing loss occurs in a combination of volume and duration. A person can incur noise-induced hearing loss from a single blast of very loud sound, such as an explosion, car accident, or gunshot at close range. In this case the noise occurs with a very high volume and very short duration. However, noise-induced hearing loss can also occur through a relatively lower volume over a longer period of time. Experts point to the level of 85 decibels as the crucial threshold for noise exposure. At that volume a person can endure about 8 hours of exposure without experiencing hearing loss, enough for a continuous shift at work, for example. However, for each additional 3 decibels of sound exposure, that time is cut in half. As you can see the time of exposure can become quite brief when sounds get louder, meaning that protection is necessary or a break from the noisy environment to make sure that noise-induced hearing loss does not occur. Those who work in noisy environments need to know that this combination of volume and duration poses a risk, and employers are mandated to provide hearing protection or limits to working shifts to make sure that individuals do not incur noise-induced hearing loss at work.
How can I protect myself from noise-induced hearing loss?
If you are concerned about your noise exposure, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. First, you can take a decibel reading in any location where you find yourself, including your job or recreational locations such as sporting arenas or music venues. If you find out that the volume in that place poses a risk, earplugs are a great solution. Even over-the-counter disposable foam earplugs can reduce the volume by 10 to 15 decibels, bringing that noise level into a range that is safe for you. Another approach is to limit your exposure. Particularly when it comes to recreational noise from leisure activities, headphones, or earbuds, you can make sure not to expose yourself to too much volume for too long a duration. A good rule of thumb is to keep the volume on your smartphone at about 75 percent of the maximum. Beyond this level, you might be causing noise-induced hearing loss over time.
Is there treatment for noise-induced hearing loss?
Although there is not a bodily cure for noise-induced hearing loss, treatment comes in the form of hearing aids and other assistive devices. When you get a diagnosis of noise-induced hearing loss, our hearing health professionals can connect you with the right hearing aids for your individual needs and lifestyle. The first step is to get a hearing test, so why not schedule your appointment today? Once you have a diagnosis of your hearing needs, you can set off on the path toward treatment. The latest hearing aids are incredibly effective at improving communication ability and your quality of life, so don’t delay.