Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Everyday, we experience noise in some shape or form. Normally, we hear these sounds at safe levels that do not affect our hearing. However, when exposed to harmfully loud sounds, sensitive structures in our inner ear can be damaged, causing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). These very sensitive structures, called hair cells, are small sensory cells that help convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain, and once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back.
Out of the estimated 40 million Americans suffering from hearing loss, approximately 10 million can be attributed to noise-induced hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by a onetime exposure to a loud sound or by repeated exposure to loud noises over an extended period of time.
We all know that hearing plays an essential role in communication, speech and language development, and learning. So, even a small amount of hearing loss can have a negative effect on speech, language comprehension, communication, and social development. As the world gets busier and more crowded, it will inevitably get noisier. Understanding conversations, especially in the presence of noise, is more difficult than ever. Combine that fact with a lifetime of exposure to loud music or noisy working environments and you have the formula for noise-induced hearing loss.
In fact, noise is probably the most common occupational hazard facing people today. It is estimated that as many as 30 million Americans are exposed to potentially harmful sounds at work. Even outside of work, many people participate in recreational activities that can produce harmful noise such as musical concerts, hunting, motorcycle etc.). Sixty million Americans own firearms, and many people do not use appropriate hearing protection devices. Hearing loss caused by exposure to loud sound a.k.a. noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable. To learn more – see Hearing Loss Prevention.
When exposed to loud noise over a long period of time, symptoms of NIHL will increase gradually. Over time, a person’s hearing may become distorted or muffled, and it may be difficult for the person to understand speech. Someone with NIHL may not even be aware of the loss, but it can be detected with a hearing test. When getting your hearing test, you can also ask your hearing care professional about available products for hearing protection including custom ear plugs.