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Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can happen at any age and at any time. If you think your hearing is damaged, the first thing you should do is make an appointment at Evergreen Audiology Clinic and get a hearing evaluation. We’ve been serving the people of the Vancouver, WA area for more than 20 years and we treat each client like a family member. NIHL can be temporary, but it also can be permanent. You can better discern if this is an issue facing you if you understand NIHL.
What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
Every day there is sound all around us: there’s traffic, the television, household appliances and the noises from our computers, iPhones and other devices. We are so used to the beeps, buzzes and hums, they don’t even register anymore. Normally, these sounds are at safe levels and they don’t damage our hearing. Sounds can harm your hearing, though, when they are too loud or over a prolonged period of time. These sounds can cause damage to the structures in the inner ear and this will result in NIHL.
NIHL can be immediately recognized, or can take a long time to be noticed. It can be temporary or permanent and it can be in one ear or both ears. You may not realize your ears are damaged now, but in the future, you may start realizing that conversation seems muffled, especially if you are talking on the phone or trying to have a conversation in a noisy environment. However, you first realize it, you need to realize that noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented.
Who Suffers from NIHL?
Exposure to dangerous noise can happen to anyone. People of all age ranges, from children to seniors can develop NIHL. A 2011-2012 Center for Disease Control study involving hearing tests and interviews found at least 10 million adults in the United States under the age of 70 and up to 40 million adults had features noted in their hearing tests that suggest hearing loss in one or both ears from exposure to loud noise. Researchers also estimate that up to 17% of teens, age 12 to 19, have indications in their hearing tests that suggest NIHL in one or both ears.
So, What’s the Cause?
NIHL can be caused by one loud noise, such as an explosion or by continuous exposure to noise at a certain level over a period of time, such as noise generated at a factory.
Recreational activities that you participate in without ear plugs or other ear protection can put you at risk. These would include motorcycling, target shooting, hunting or snowmobiling. Listen to music on personal devices too loud can damage your ears. Going to loud nightclubs more than once or twice a week, playing in a band, or going to loud concerts can damage your ears.
Noise at home such as leaf blowers, lawn mowers or woodworking tools can be too loud.
Too loud is sound at or over about 85 decibels. Some average decibel ratings to give a point of reference would be: a normal conversation about 70, soundtrack at a movie theater about 104, motorcycles and dirt bikes about 110 as is the decibel rating of music through headphones at maximum volume or a concert.
How Does the Damage Occur?
Sound enters the outer ear and travels through the ear canal to the ear drum. The ear drum vibrates from the sound waves and send the vibrations to bones in the middle ear. The bones in the middle ear vibrate the fluid inside the cochlea and the traveling sound waves cause hair cells to ripple creating an electrical signal which the auditory nerve sends as an electrical signal to the brain. The brain translates that signal into a sound which you understand. NIHL damages the hair cells. Initially, there are enough hair cells to compensate, but as more and more get damaged, hearing loss occurs.
Can NIHL Be Prevented?
NIHL can assuredly be prevented. If you are aware of the hazards of loud noise, you can take precautions to avoid the damage. Know which sounds are above 85 decibels. There are phone apps that list those noises as well as apps that can measure sound levels. Wear earplugs or noise cancelling headphones if you are working outside with loud equipment or participating in a leisure activity that involves loud or prolonged noise. There are activity-specific earplugs and earmuffs available at hardware and sporting goods stores. And, get an annual hearing evaluation at Evergreen Audiology Clinic. Your initial hearing test can set a baseline to help us keep tabs on your hearing.
If you’re concerned about your hearing health, contact us at Evergreen Audiology for a consultation and hearing test. We also offer custom hearing protection to help you protect your hearing from excessive noise. We look forward to hearing from you!