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What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

While many people are aware of what hearing loss is in today’s society, did you know that there are different types of hearing loss?  In previous blogs, we’ve talked about a few of the common ones in Oklahoma, such as Conductive Hearing Loss (CHL) and Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SHL).  Today, we’re going to dive a little deeper into the latter type; specifically, one of the main causes of it: a condition known as Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).  We discuss what it is, what causes it, and how to avoid it. 

What’s the Difference Between SHL and NIHL?

SHL is a result of damage being done to the hearing mechanisms of the inner ear.  It has many causes, such as prolonged exposure to loud noises, trauma, diseases, certain medications, and even tumors.  While doctors can treat some of these causes, one that cannot be treated is NIHL, because once the damage is done, it cannot be reversed.  However, while it isn’t treatable, this is one of the few types of hearing loss that can be 100% prevented before it occurs.

How it Works

Deep within your inner ear, there are incredibly small hair cells that are vital to our hearing.  When a sound wave enters our ears, it travels to these hair cells and vibrates them. These vibrations, working in tandem with the rest of the inner ear, creates electrical signals that travel to the brain and are interpreted as sound.  However, if a sound is too loud, it can damage these hair cells, eventually leading to the death of the cell. Unlike other cells in the human body, these hair cells don’t grow back, so any damage done is permanent.

What Causes NIHL?

NIHL has two causes: a one-time exposure to an extremely loud sound, such as an explosion or a gunshot, or prolonged exposure to loud noises over time, such as working in a factory with heavy machinery.  The rates of NIHL have climbed in recent years as technology has advanced. Whereas it used to be easy to avoid loud noises, we are now surrounded by them: concerts in parks, listening to our headphones at full volume, riding lawnmowers at home, etc.  But how do you know if a sound is too loud?

The Decibel Range

The loudness of sound is measured in decibels (dB).  As a general rule of thumb, anything over 85 dB is considered harmful and puts you in danger of damaging your hearing.  Some common dB “benchmarks” are:

  • 0-30 dB: Leaves rustling, whispers, or breathing (very quiet sounds).
  • 40-50 dB: Birds chirping, average conversations at home, or urban ambiance sounds.
  • 60-70 dB: Background music, vacuum cleaners, or being inside a car travelling over 60 MPH.
  • 80-90 dB: Noisy environments, blenders, lawnmowers, or planes overhead.
  • 90-115 dB: Motorcycles, snowmobiles, chainsaws, or jets taking off nearby.
  • 116-130 dB: Rock concerts, being in the crowd at a race track, or a thunderclap.
  • 130-150 dB: Jets taking off at 25 meters away, sirens closeby, and gunshots at close range.

While it’s impossible to instantly know what level of decibel the sounds you’re in contact with are at any given moment, there are some general guidelines you can follow:

  • If you find it hard to have a discussion or hear other sounds in a noisy environment, that can be a sign that the sounds you are surrounded by are over 85 dB.
  • If you find that you have to take time for your ears to adjust after leaving an area of loud sound, that sound is potentially harmful for your ears.
  • If you’re listening to music with headphones and others standing next to you can hear the music, it is at a dangerous level.
  • If you are interested in getting a more precise measurement of noise level in your area, there are several free apps in the app store (that can be downloaded to your smartphone) like Decibel X, dB Meter or Decibel Ultra.

Tips for Preventing NIHL

  • Wear noise-cancelling devices or use earplugs when operating loud machinery at work or at home to lessen the loudness of the sound waves entering your ears.
  • If you are in a situation where you can’t escape loud sounds, try to put some distance between you and the sound to lessen the strength of the sound waves.
  • Whenever you are able, turn down the volume of your music or TV to a comfortable setting that allows you to hear other sounds around you.

The best form of preventing hearing loss and NIHL is to schedule regular checkups with an audiologist to check how you are hearing.  At Audio Recovery, our team is dedicated to not only protecting your hearing, but also giving you the resources and tools you need to prevent hearing loss and live a long and healthy life.  Call us today at 405-949-1906 or send us a message online to learn more about how we can help you, or visit us on Facebook for more hearing tips and news.