How does noise damage the ears?
Updated: Feb 27
We are exposed to sounds every day, such as: television and radio, household appliances, and traffic. Usually, these sounds are heard at safe levels that do not affect our hearing. However, harmful noise (sounds that are too loud or loud sounds that last a long time) damages the sensitive structures in our cochlea, causing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
These hair cells give us the ability to discriminate between different frequencies or pitches. So when the hair cells are damaged, the loudness of sounds is not affected. Rather, damage to the hair cells makes it difficult for you to distinguish different pitches of sound.
For example, when listening to speech and you have:
Normal hearing, you will hear: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog and surprises it”
Hearing difficulty, you will hear: “‘e qui’ brown ‘ox jump’ over ‘e la’ dog and ‘upplies it”
Damage to the hair cells depends on the ‘dose’ of noise, that is the duration as well as the level of the noise. NIHL can either be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense loud sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as noise generated in a factory with machinery or continuously listening to personal music devices at unsafe levels.
The main thing to remember is that loud noise causes direct mechanical damage to the hair cells and once damaged, they cannot grow back.
How loud is loud?
What are the effects of noise-induced hearing loss?
Temporary or permanent hearing difficulty
Temporary or permanent tinnitus
Ringing in your ears
How do I know if I have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)?
When exposed to loud noise over a long period of time, symptoms of NIHL will increase gradually, so you may not be aware of the hearing difficulty to begin with. When it begins to affect your day to day life you may notice:
Sounds become distorted or muffled
Difficulty understanding speech
If you experience any of these symptoms you should have your hearing assessed - Contact The Art of Hearing for more information or for an appointment
Can noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) be prevented?
Yes, NIHL is 100% preventable. You can prevent your ears from noise damage by:
Being aware of the hazards of noise and how to practice good hearing health in everyday life:
Keep the volume on personal headphones at a safe level
Stand away from loud speakers
If you don’t have ear protection, walk away from the noise or limit your time in noisy environments
Wearing custom made noise-plugs that are suitable to the noisy environment
Ensuring these plugs are also suited to your level of hearing
Creating awareness and spreading the word. Inform family, friends, and colleagues of the hazards of noise
Note: the above information is for guidance only. Exposure to levels above 70-80dB can damage your ear permanently.
If you suspect you have a hearing loss or tinnitus Contact The Art of Hearing for more information or for an appointment.