Hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions people experience today. Nearly 1 in 5 people have some degree of impaired hearing. Hearing loss can be caused by several factors including exposure to loud noise. It is estimated that over 50 million people are regularly exposed to excessive noise. One time or regular absorption of loud noise can cause noise induced hearing loss. This reduces one’s capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. Hearing loss produces a range of symptoms that take a toll on communication, relationships, social life, and health. Noise induced hearing loss is preventable and practicing safety measures can significantly protect your hearing health.
What causes noise induced hearing loss?
We are exposed to all types of sounds throughout the day. Some of these sounds can be loud enough to damage the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing. Loud noise can impair the sensory cells that are in the inner ear. There are thousands of sensory cells in the cochlea which play an integral role in how sound is processed. These cells convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals which then get carried to the brain. The brain continues processing these signals, assigning meaning to them, enabling us to understand what we hear.
Loud noise can desensitize and weaken sensory cells. This reduces their ability to effectively process soundwaves, resulting in the brain receiving less auditory information. The brain is then forced to work harder to search for and process sound, causing hearing loss. Unlike other types of cells we have, sensory cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. There are also no medical interventions that can repair or replenish these cells which means that any damage they experience is permanent. This produces chronic, noise induced hearing loss.
How loud is too loud?
It is important to be aware of the noise levels you are exposed to. Sound is measured in decibels (85dB) and noise above 85dB is considered hazardous for hearing health. This is equivalent to city traffic, a noisy restaurant during peak hours, or a hair dryer. People are regularly exposed to higher noise levels, common sources being the workplace and social activities as well as using household items. In fact, it is estimated that 22 million people are exposed to dangerously high noise levels in the workplace.
The maximum threshold for safe listening is 85dB for 8 hours a day. But for noise that surpasses 85dB, exposure time needs to be significantly reduced. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s guidelines for safe listening, exposure time to noise above 85dB should be reduced by half for every 3 decibel increase of noise above:
- 85dB: 8 hours
- 88dB: 4 hours
- 91dB: 2 hours
- 94dB: 1 hour
- 97dB: 30min
We engage in a range of activities that expose us to loud noise: listening to music, navigating the workplace, using power tools, attending a convert etc. It is important to know that exceeding these thresholds can permanently damage hearing health by causing noise induced hearing loss.
How can I protect my hearing health?
Noise induced hearing loss is completely preventable. Practicing the following safety measures can protect your hearing health and mitigate the potential harm of loud noise exposure:
- Wear hearing protection: there are different types of hearing protection including headphones, earplugs, and earmuffs. These portable items provide a physical barrier for the ears, reducing the amount of loud noise you absorb. They are also small enough to carry, allowing you to easily access them when moving through noisier environments.
- Invest in noise cancellation: if you use earbuds or headphones regularly, investing in noise canceling headphones is a great way to listen to audio safely. Noise canceling technology is designed to reduce background noise which prevents you from increasing the volume on your electronic devices when navigating loud spaces.
- Reduce exposure: be sure to reduce your exposure to loud noise as much as possible. You can do this by maintaining low volume settings on your electronic devices, taking alternate routes to avoid traffic or construction sites, and taking listening breaks throughout the day.
- Test hearing regularly: another effective strategy is to get your hearing tested regularly. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures your hearing capacities in both eras. This allows you to track your hearing health and identify any changes you may experience over time.
Practicing these strategies can prevent noise induced hearing loss. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation so that you can prioritize your hearing health and wellness.