Exposure to loud sounds is a common cause of hearing loss. Known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), the condition affects around 12% of children aged 6–19 years old and 17% of adults aged 69 or underin the U.S. While some people experience sudden NIHL after hearing a very loud sound or blast, others develop the condition gradually through everyday activities such as attending concerts and using heavy machinery.
Fortunately, it is possible to avoid NIHL by recognizing its causes and taking steps to protect the ears in loud environments.
Noisy workplaces represent one of the most common causes of NIHL due to the fact employees spend so much of their time on the job. For example, people who work in factories or military settings are constantly exposed to loud noises. While these noises may not cause obvious and sudden hearing loss, even moderately loud sounds can damage hair cells within the middle ear. These cells, which are vital for auditory processing, cannot grow back, leading to gradual and irreversible hearing loss.
According to recent stats, over 75% of work-related hearing loss in the private sector occurred in manufacturing settings, demonstrating the need for employees to wear adequate protection during work hours.
Sudden and extremely loud noises, such as explosions and blasts, can damage any delicate structure within the ear, including the inner ear or cochlea. Depending on the type of damage that occurs, very loud sounds can cause permanent hearing damage if left untreated. As such, it is crucial that people who experience hearing loss after a loud event seek immediate medical attention.
Events such as music festivals, monster truck races, football games, and movie screenings can cause hearing loss and tinnitus (a ringing in the ears). Many people experience muffled and or distorted hearing during the hours or days following a loud event.
While this kind of hearing loss is usually temporary, frequent attendance at loud events can eventually cause permanent damage, with repeated exposure to sounds of 85 decibels or louder for eight hours a day potentially causing permanent and premature hearing loss.
Headphones and earbuds are a very popular way for people to enjoy their favorite tunes and podcasts while traveling or exercising. However, the World Health Organization predicts around one billion young people are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices such as bumping up the volume on their headphones. Unfortunately, many people raise the volume of their personal listening devices to drown out noises from the outside world, particularly in loud cities.
To avoid hearing loss, a good rule of thumb is to avoid exceeding about 60% of the maximum volume and invest in noise-canceling headphones to improve the listening experience.
Surprisingly, loud and chronic snoring is associated with NIHL in both snorers and their bed partners. Loud and persistent snoring is often caused by sleep apnea, a chronic condition that raises a person's risk of stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, and cognitive issues. As such, it is imperative that people with sleep apnea seek treatments to protect themselves and their partners.
DIY and gardening tools such as electric drills, leaf blowers, and lawnmowers can cause NIHL after frequent and prolonged use. People who are keen to know more about the noise levels of their favorite power tools can check the NIOSH database of sound power levels for detailed insights.
Shouts, cries, or barks that occur in close proximity to the ear can cause permanent or temporary hearing loss. Parents of infants, for example, may experience noises of up to 120 decibels as a result of their children crying. People with loud dogs may also experience frequent exposure to loud sounds and should take precautions to protect their hearing.
Parents and owners aren't the only ones at risk. Staff at daycares for pets and kids are also exposed to these noises consistently.
Riding a motorbike or taking the subway can lead to hearing loss in the long term. In fact, exposure to road traffic noise over 70 decibels can increase the risk of auditory damage over time. While it may not be possible to avoid traveling, reducing time spent near busy roads and wearing the right hearing protection can reduce the risk of NIHL.
As well as annoying the neighbors, a loud television can cause hearing loss over time. Modern televisions are capable of producing noises far beyond the safe hearing limit. Plus, there are no set volume standards for advertisers or broadcasters, allowing them to blast audio at very high volumes during commercial breaks.
People who are worried about television-related hearing loss can protect themselves by keeping the volume setting as low as possible and, if necessary, using subtitles.
While it is difficult to avoid exposure to loud noises, it is possible to prevent NIHL by reducing the time spent around loud objects such as lawnmowers and power tools. People who cannot avoid prolonged exposure to loud noises should protect their hearing by investing in hearing protection devices, including ear plugs and ear defenders. These days, there are even stylish options that block some to all sound.
Similarly, people who enjoy listening to music and attending concerts can prevent long-term ear damage by turning down the volume of their devices and moving away from the sources of loud sounds wherever possible. Finally, those who are concerned about their hearing loss should seek help from a qualified audiologist.
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