Hearing loss occurs due to many factors. One of the factors is conductive hearing loss, which occurs due to a blockage such as glue ear, characterized by a build-up of fluid in the ear or having too much ear wax. Age is another factor.
Studies indicate that hearing loss increases with time. The sensitive hair cells inside the cochlea die over time, leading to sensor neural hearing loss. The result is the inability to hear consonants sounds and high frequent sounds such as children and female’s voice correctly.
However, the above two causes of hearing loss occur naturally, and their effects and intensity may vary between individuals. The main cause of hearing loss is noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), caused by loud noises.
- What is noise induced hearing loss (NIHL)?
Almost all the time we hear sounds from people, traffics, industries, radio, and television. The levels of most of these sounds are safe and have no harmful effects on your ears.
However, sometimes excessive sound energy (loud enough) may strike your ears for a long duration resulting in noise induced hearing loss, a condition characterized by a permanent hearing impairment.
This condition is irreversible, occurs to people of all ages, and can affect both or one ear. However, if the duration of exposure is not long and the sound is not loud enough, you may not suffer from this permanent hearing loss but may experience acoustic trauma.
Acoustic trauma is a reversible and temporary hearing loss whose symptoms include ringing in the ears for some time and hearing dullness.
- To which levels can a sound lead to hearing loss?
Sound intensity and loudness are measured in decibels (dB), and these measures can go below the zero mark the same way as degree Celsius in temperature. The zero dB marks the faintest sound that the human ear can detect.
A prolonged exposure to sounds beyond 85dB can cause NIHL. Ordinary conversation is about 60 decibels, sounds from sources such as motorcycles, small firearms and firecrackers are about 130 decibels, and a quiet whisper emits about 30 dB.
All sources of sounds that emit less than 75 dB are not likely to cause hearing loss even after a prolonged exposure.
- What sounds can cause NIHL?
Individuals who work in noisy environments such as nightclubs are at high risk of developing NIHL. Others include those who use noisy equipment for a prolonged time such as compressed-air hammers and pneumatic drill.
Another very common cause of NIHL particularly to the young people is listening to a music system through headphones at a maximum volume. The sound intensity emitted by these systems is about 100 dB, which is a level enough to cause a permanent hearing loss after just 15 minutes per day.
Other sources of these high sound intensities include snowmobile riding, hunting and shooting, loud concerts, playing in a band, and sounds from leaf blowers and lawnmowers.
Moreover, gunshots (usually about 160 dB) and a clap of thunder from a storm (120 dB) can cause immediate ear damage.
- The relationship between duration/closeness of the sound source and loss of hearing
A direct relationship exists between the ear damage extent and the exposure duration to a loud noise. The longer you expose your ears to continuous and loud sound, the more you damage them.
In addition, the closer you are to the loud sounds, the greater the damage. It is the reason there are many cases of hearing problems among children and the youths due to a common habit of listening to their high volume music close to their eardrum through headphones.
- How can noise damage your hearing?
Excessive exposure to loud noises can cause damage to hearing nerves (auditory) and the hair cells in the inner ear. The result is sensorineural hearing loss or nerve deafness.
In addition to this condition, you may experience tinnitus, a symptom of ear infection characterized by buzzing, roaring or ringing in the ears or head.Tinnitus is an indication of inner ear damage or nerve destruction.
Loud noises can also cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and stomach acid. Moreover, it can cause irritability, anxiety, and mood swings, thus affecting concentration, attention and accuracy in your work.
- What are the symptoms of NIHL?
Since the ear damage caused by noise exposure develops gradually, you might not realize you have a problem until it is too late. Over time, the sound you once understood may become muffled or distorted, making it difficult to follow and understand television conversations, group discussions, or a presentation.
Sometimes you may not hear common sounds such as doorbells, alarm clocks, cricket chirping or bird singing. Pain or ringing in the ears is another common symptom especially after excessive loud sounds exposure.
- NIHL Prevention
Avoiding exposure to loud noises is the best way to prevent NIHL. It is best to ensure that your radio, television or any other music system is not so loud (should be below 85 dB). This precaution is vital particularly if you have young children since their hearing nerves and hair cells in their inner ear are more delicate than in adults.
You should also avoid using headphones due to the closeness between the speakers and your eardrum. In addition, avoid drugs such as ototoxic like aspirins, which might contribute to the auditory nerve damage.
In situations where it is impossible to avoid loud noises such as when using noisy yard equipment, power tools, and firearms, ensure you wear hearing protection devices. These protectors, which come in two forms (earmuffs and earplugs) are vital in reducing the sound intensity that reaches the eardrum.
Protect your ears, keep them clean and safe as possible, and do not insert objects such as cotton wool, fingers, tissues, and cotton buds into them.
If you suspect you have troubles in following a conversation especially in a noisy place like a party, a hearing test is necessary since the sign could be the beginning of a hearing problem.
It is best to consult an otolaryngologist, who is a specialist in disorders of the nose, throat, and most importantly the ear. These examinations are especially important if you have conditions such as diabetes mellitus, atherosclerosis, iron and vitamin A deficiencies, and light skin. Others include smoking tobacco, family history of hearing loss, and older age.
Individuals with the above conditions are at high risks of experiencing noise induced hearing loss.