Sensorineural (or permanent) hearing loss can be caused from many factors including: age, genetics, medications (like chemotherapy), and/or other health issues (such as diabetes), just to name a few.
A very common and often overlooked cause of hearing loss, is noise-induced hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss!?!
Yes, that means it is possible that some noises in and around your environment could cause permanent damage to your hearing. In fact, of the approximately 30 million Americans that have hearing loss, 1 in 3 have developed hearing loss due to exposure to noise. Before we continue with more information about noise induced-hearing loss, let’s back up and talk about how the hearing process works.
Sound is funneled into the ear canal from the Pinna (outer ear) and travels down the ear canal to the eardrum.
When sound hit the eardrum it is turned into vibrations and those vibrations move the three ossicles, which are the tiniest bones in the body (the malleus, incus, and stapes). The moving vibrations continue to where they then push on the inner ear (the oval window of cochlea, to be exact), moving the fluid inside. This fluid movement inside the organ of hearing moves the hair cells, which trigger a neural pulse that travels to your brain and tells your brain you have heard something.
With exposure to noise and loud sounds, those hair cells, that are vital to our hearing system, begin to break down. In turn, sounds need to be louder to get those damaged hair cells to fire the neural pulse that travels up to the brain. This is hearing loss!
The Human ear can hear pitches of sound from as low as 20 Hz to as high as 20,000 Hz. The range of normal hearing is anything at 25 dB or softer in terms of volume. Generally, 0 dB is regarded as the threshold of hearing. Sounds in our environment vary in pitch and in loudness. Take a look at the audiogram below to get an idea of where some of our familiar sounds fall on the scale of pitch and loudness. (The letters show us where each letter of the alphabet falls on an audiogram) :
Here’s another way of viewing a loudness scale of sounds in our environment:
Keep in mind the average conversational speech takes place at about 60 decibels. Once sounds become as loud as 85 dB, they can cause permanent damage to your hearing. The louder the sound becomes, the quicker damage to our ears can occur. Take a look at these standards set by NIOSH and the CDC in 2002. The quick rule: for every additional 3 dB over 85 dB, subtract half the time before damage can occur.
Concerned for damage to your hearing from noise?
It may be time to visit the Centers For Hearing Care office nearest you for a diagnostic hearing evaluation if:
You have recently been around loud or harmful noises
Your hearing seems muffled after exposure to noise
You are currently experiencing tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Now that we have talked about the bad news, the damage,
let’s talk about the good news, PREVENTION!
Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented and here is how:
Protect yourself from harmful sounds! A harmful sound is one that is too loud and lasts too long OR is very loud and sudden. Some examples of harmful sounds are:
MP3 players and iPods at full volume
Wearing hearing protection while you are around harmful sounds helps prevent noise-induced hearing loss. Some examples of hearing protection are:
Turning down the volume when listening to TV, music, etc. through headphones or ear buds
Simply walking away from the noise and getting yourself out of that environment
Foam ear plugs (can be found at sporting goods store, CVS/Walgreens)
Ear muffs (can be purchased at hardware store, sporting goods store, etc.)
Custom made ear plugs (can be made by and purchased at your nearest CFHC office). Everyday wear especially for Musicians, Hunters and Shooters, Industrial Workers, and Police/Military.
Want more information?
Check out these great websites that have been great references for this post:
Lauren L. Thomas, AuD., CCC-A
Doctor of Audiology
Centers for Hearing Care Austintown