The Link Between Loud Noise and Permanent Hearing Loss
A Single Exposure to Loud Noise Can Lead to Some Permanent Hearing Loss
There have been more than a few movie scenes in which one character cannot get the attention of another because there is loud music blaring away in the background. In fact, the sound level in that scene may be so high that even the viewers are unable to understand all of the dialogue; once the screen characters finally do connect, they often resort to using hand gestures because of an inability to hear each other speak.
While this type of movie scene is usually included for comedic effect, it is actually not far from illustrating the truth – just ask someone who has been to a rock concert to describe their hearing and comprehension levels on the day following the event; though they may be exaggerating some, they would likely say that they could not hear anything because their ears were still ringing, then add that it eventually returned to normal, so to speak.
However, the case could be made that their hearing never fully returns to its pre-concert level. Based on recent research, it is believed that just a single exposure to loud noise may be sufficient to bring about or hasten irreparable damage to the ears and thus lead to a degree of permanent hearing loss; this is called noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL.
Depending on the type/source of a loud noise and the duration of exposure, NIHL can be immediate or it may take some time before it becomes evident, and it could affect one or both ears. Some of the activities/exposures that can place people at risk of NIHL are:
- Rock concerts
- Live sports events
- Riding a snowmobile
- Gunshots or explosions
- Power woodworking tools
- Working in bars or nightclubs
- Loud music through earbuds/headphones
Just how do these loud noises damage the ears and precipitate permanent hearing loss? Without delving too far into technical details, noises that are too loud and/or long-lasting can damage or destroy sensitive structures in the inner ear, mainly the hair cells. These hair cells move in response to sound and are responsible for sending signals through the auditory nerve to the brain, where the sound is then interpreted; permanent impairment of hair cell function basically means losing the ability to interpret and understand sound, thus resulting in significant and permanent hearing loss.
Fortunately, noise-induced hearing loss is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. Steps that can be taken to safeguard against NIHL would include:
- Limit the amount of noise exposure
- Limit the duration of noise exposure
- Stand at a distance from loudspeakers
- Wear/use earplugs in loud-noise environments
- Take frequent breaks away from loud-noise settings
Individuals who are concerned about protecting themselves against NIHL, either at work, home, or play, are also encouraged to consult with a professional, such as the hearing specialists at Bravo Hearing Centre, with respect to activity-specific hearing protection.
Consult a Hearing Specialist if You Are Experiencing Signs or Symptoms of NIHL
There are several signs that are indicative of the presence of noise-induced hearing loss;
- Hypersensitivity to everyday noises
- Constant ringing in the ears (or tinnitus)
- Difficulty hearing the TV at normal volume
- Sounds might be either muffled or distorted
- Inability to understand others when they speak
Individuals who are experiencing one or more such symptoms should, with some degree of urgency, consult a hearing specialist at the Bravo Hearing Centre to determine:
- The root cause
- The type of hearing loss
- The degree of hearing loss
- An immediate course of action
- Preventative measures moving forward
The specialists from Bravo Hearing Centre offer a comprehensive range of services and support programs to help patients with hearing impairment and related complications, including noise-induced hearing loss. For additional information on this range of services and programs, please go to our Hearing Services page.
If you are experiencing any potential signs or symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss, call the hearing specialists at Bravo Hearing Centre at 647-694-4626 to book a Comprehensive Audiological Assessment and a Consultation to assess your present situation and to determine the best course of action moving forward.