Hearing Loss Created by Exposure to Noise
It is unfortunate that in almost all cases, hearing loss from exposure to high levels of noise can be prevented. Loud noise is prevalent in society. Decades ago, people lived in relatively more quiet environments. Today we are assaulted by high levels of noise from many different sources.
Something as innocent as mowing the lawn, can induce some degree of hearing loss. The same applies to using equipment consistenting of small two cycle engines, i.e. a chain saw. Recreational noise, associated with motorcycles, off road vehicles, and such put people at risk of developing hearing loss.
The more frequent and the longer the exposure, the more likely a permanent hearing loss will result. Take for example the men who serve on aircraft carriers. The average level of noise exceeds 160 dB. Even wearing ear protection does not entirely protect these servicemen from hearing loss. This is a major problem and the Department of Defense spends about 300 million per year in compensation.
We believe that many types of public sound systems in are too loud. As are some kinds of live musical performances. The rule of thumb is if you cannot carry on a conversation in the setting where the noise is occurring, you are at risk for hearing loss.
How Does The Hearing Loss Happen?
The structures of the inner ear are delicate, and fragile. The hair cells responsible for high frequency hearing are the ones most susceptible to hearing loss. Loud noise, basically causes the hair cells to commit suicide. The result? High frequency hearing loss, and the more repetitive the noise exposure, the more progressive the hearing loss becomes.
Symptoms of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (Excitotoxicity)
The most noticeable sympton is tinnitus. It may be constant, or intermittent.
Next, the patient discovers that it's hard to follow open ended conversation, and, loud sounds are very annoying.
A diagnostic hearing test is required to determine if a hearing loss is due to noise exposure.
Since we are unable to avoid all loud noise situations, it is imperative that ear protection is worn to reduce the levels of noise to the inner ear.
There are a large variety of commercial products available, but, the best types are custom made.
For hunters, special noise cancellation ear protection is available. These are custom made electronic devices that are worn inside the ears. They are very effective in cancelling loud noise, for example gunfire, and, they also allow the wearer to hear soft speech...a requirement for hunting safety.
Hearing Loss in Adults and Children Related to Noise Exposure
It is tragic that millions of children are developing permanent hearing loss due to excessive noise exposure. It is estimated, by recent studies, that as many as 30 million Americans are subjected to dangerous noise levels each day.
Fifteen percent (15%) of college graduates have levels of hearing equal to, or poorer than their parents. Why? Repeated exposure to loud noise. It seems, the only way the inner ear responds, is to lose certain frequency ranges of hearing.
The increase in hearing loss among children, and young adults is staggering. Nearly 40% of hearing loss occurs in people younger than age 65!
In the older than 75 age group, 50% have permanent hearing loss. Hearing loss is now more common than arthritis, and hypertension combined.
Preventing Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss can result from a single loud noise such as a firecracker or gunshot. Hearing loss can also result from prolonged exposure to noise over a period of time. It occurs gradually and painlessly. The best way to prevent noise-induced hearing loss is to take care of your hearing by
protecting your ears from loud sounds.
We recommend you take steps to limit your exposure to loud noise. Patients should be cautious about the volume of the noise, and the length of time they are exposed to the noise.
For all of these reasons, we recommend the use of earplugs to protect, and preserve your hearing.