What is noise-induced hearing loss?

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Preventing noise-related hearing loss

Being exposed to loud noise over and over is one of the most common causes of permanent hearing loss. It usually develops slowly and without pain or other symptoms. You may not notice that you have hearing loss until it is severe.

Here are some steps you can take to lower your risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

  • Be aware of and avoid harmful noise.

    You can be exposed to harmful noise at work, at home, and in many other settings. Know what kinds of situations can cause harmful noise levels. To learn more about hearing protection in workplaces in the United States, contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

  • Use hearing protectors.

    If you know you are going to be around harmful noise, wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs.

  • Control the volume when you can.

    Reduce the noise in your life by turning down the volume on the stereo, TV, or car radio, and especially on personal listening devices with earphones or ear buds.

  • Don't wait to protect yourself.

    After noise-related damage to the ear is done, it cannot be reversed. But if you already have some noise-related hearing loss, it is not too late to prevent further damage and preserve the hearing that you still have.

How does noise-induced hearing loss develop?

To be heard, sound energy has to be strong enough to bend tiny hair cells in the cochlea, a part of the inner ear. The force of loud noise can damage these hair cells. A small amount of damage may have no effect on hearing. But with repeated exposure to noise, more of the hair cells are damaged, causing hearing loss.

Noise-induced hearing loss usually affects both ears. But one ear may be affected more than the other if you've had repeated, long-term exposure to a loud sound that always comes from the same direction. An example is gunfire that's always near the same ear.

What noise levels put you at risk for hearing loss?

The effects of noise on hearing vary among people. Some people's ears are more sensitive to loud sounds, especially at certain frequencies. In general, sounds above 85 decibels are harmful. But any sound that is loud enough and lasts long enough can damage hearing and lead to hearing loss.

What causes noise-induced hearing loss?

On-the-job (occupational) noise is one of the most common sources of noise that can cause hearing loss. Sudden loud noises (like an explosion), loud sounds (like a rock concert), and repeated, frequent exposure to loud or moderately loud sounds over a long period can also lead to hearing loss.

How do you know if noise may damage your hearing?

An easy way to be more aware of possibly harmful noise is to pay attention to warning signs that a sound might be damaging to your hearing. A sound may be harmful if:

  • You have trouble talking or hearing others talk over the sound.
  • The sound makes your ears hurt.
  • Your ears are ringing after hearing the sound.
  • Other sounds seem muffled after you leave an area where there is loud noise.

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