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Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss


Consider your daily life. How loud is your commute to work or your workplace itself?

Our world is full of noise, and it can leave a lasting impact on your ears if you’re not careful.

What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Also known as NIHL, noise-induced hearing loss is caused by exposure to loud sounds. It can result from a single loud noise or long-term, repeat exposure.

When a sound vibration enters your ear, it stimulates the delicate hair cells in your inner ear called stereocilia. Those hair cells convert the vibrations into electrical signals and send them to your brain for interpretation. Loud noises permanently damage those hair cells and cause hearing loss.

NIHL is typically more common in adults, but the increased use of headphones and earbuds has also put children and teenagers at risk.

Symptoms of NIHL

Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty differentiating “s,” “sh,” “th,” and “f” sounds
  • Trouble hearing high-frequency sounds like children’s voices
  • Struggling to understand conversations
  • Diplacusis, or double hearing

You may notice certain symptoms immediately after exposure, including:

Occupations with High Levels of Noise Exposure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 22 million American workers are exposed to dangerous noise levels on the job.

People who work in the loudest environments include:

  • Nurses
  • EMS staff and firefighters
  • Military personnel
  • Construction workers
  • Carpenters
  • Miners
  • Farmers
  • Factory workers
  • DJs and musicians
  • Racecar drivers

It’s essential to monitor the noise level of your workplace to mitigate your risk of hearing loss. Your employer is required to put specific measures in place to reduce your exposure to damaging sounds. That may include providing hearing protection, establishing protective barriers and replacing loud equipment.

Effects of NIHL

Because NIHL often comes on gradually, you may not notice your condition until your ears have sustained significant damage.

Losing your hearing affects your ability to communicate and interact with the world around you. That can be isolating and increase your risk for anxiety, depression and dementia.

Other effects of NIHL include:

  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Tinnitus

How to Protect Your Hearing

Distance yourself from the sound source: Once you’ve identified the loud noises in your daily life, protect yourself from them. If you work in an industrial setting, consider putting a physical barrier between yourself and the noise. Shut your door or move to a quieter space if you work in a noisy office setting.

Wear hearing protection: There are many forms of hearing protection that will limit your exposure to damaging noise levels. You can buy disposable foam earplugs at drug stores, or you might opt for stronger noise-canceling headphones.

Turn down the volume: Follow the 60/60 rule: Don’t listen to music at more than 60% volume for longer than 60 minutes. Give your ears a break and lower the sound on your TV, radio, phone and stereo. It’s also a good idea to limit headphone and earbud use since those devices place audio closer to your ears.

Visit an audiologist: Completing a hearing evaluation will determine the severity of your hearing loss. Audiologists are trained and certified to prescribe a treatment plan to address your unique needs, which may include hearing aids. Wearing hearing devices is often the most effective way to treat NIHL.

Come to Hearing Associates if you suspect you have noise-induced hearing loss. Our expert team of audiologists will help you get started on your journey to better hearing. Call 888-760-2032 or contact us online to schedule your appointment.