Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

In people who have experienced hearing loss, one of the most common types they encounter is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). According to the American Hearing Loss Foundation,NIHL is one of the most common types of hearing loss in the US, after age-related hearing loss.

NIHL is a kind of sensorineural hearing loss and occurs in 23 percent of people over the age of 65. Unlike all other forms of hearing loss, hearing loss caused by noise can be avoided altogether. Here, we look specifically at a hearing loss caused by noise, the causes, and what can be done to prevent it.


How the hearing system works

Our auditory system serves one of our body’s most complex and fascinating functions. To better understand the noise-induced hearing loss, a basic understanding of how good hearing works is essential.

  1. Sound waves pass through the ear canal to enter the ear.
  2. These sound waves travel to the eardrum through the ear canal. Eardrum vibrations move three tiny bones in our middle ear; these bones are called the malleus, incus, and staples, and are the smallest bones in the body.
  3. The vibrations of these tiny bones cause fluid to ripple and wave in our cochlea. The cochlea is in the inner ear and is a fluid-filled snail-like organ.
  4. Our inner ear fluid movement causes small, delicate hair-like cells to bend and sway above the liquid.
  5. These hair-like cells bend, which transmits the sound waves into electrical signals.
  6. Finally, these signals are sent to our minds for processing via our auditory nerve. 
  7. Our brain then interprets and understands these signals as sounds.


How loud is too loud?

Any sound that is below 85 dB (from listening position) is considered safe. The permanent hearing loss sets in at 85 dB after about 8 hours of treatment. The amount of time it takes for hearing loss to happen cuts in half for every three dB increase in volume. This means a 91 dB sound will take just 4 hours to cause damage to your hearing and only 2 hours at 97 dB.

To give you some perspective, here are some familiar sounds and their dB equivalent:

  • 70 dB: Washing machine
  • 80 dB: Alarm clock
  • 90 dB: Subway train cart
  • 100 dB: Factory machinery
  • 110 dB: Car horn
  • 120 dB: Live music concert


What happens when we get too much sound

Loud noise exposure can damage the inner ear, especially the cochlear hair cells. The louder the sound, the more vibration it causes the cells of the hair to move and bend. The sheer volume of the soundwaves can start to damage the hair cells physically. Such damage will cause the cells to lose sensitivity and function less effectively.

This is how most of us experience a loss of hearing over the short term. Muffling of your hearing is normal after leaving a concert or other noisy event. You might speak loudly; you may need others to speak loudly to hear them. This is mainly because the cochlea’s hair cells have been drained by all the excessive noise you received. Your hearing typically returns after a short period, because your ears have rested.

If someone is exposed to loud noise regularly, and the hair cells do not have time to rest, the effect can be severe. In contrast to other cell types, the hair cells do not regenerate. We are born with every hair cell we’ll ever have. When they are damaged, we can’t ever get that hearing back. 

How to prevent noise-related hearing loss

We can do several things to reduce the level of sound that reaches our ears. 

Increase your distance. The best is to step away from the origins of loud noises physically. Your exposure falls by six dBA for every doubling of the distance between you and the source of the sound. 

Reduce the length of exposure. Likewise, we can restrict our exposure. Although dangerously loud sounds should never be experienced without hearing protection, many other sounds cause NIHL only after prolonged exposure.

Use hearing protection. We should use hearing protection if we have to (or choose to) be exposed to noisy noises for longer than is necessary. It’s a good idea to carry general-purpose earplugs wherever you go if you find any sound that you want to block.

Monitor sound levels around you. Cell phone apps are now available for download, which can measure dB levels. When you’re unsure of the noise level of an environment, you can use the app to determine if it is time to get the earplugs out.

Treating hearing loss induced by noise

When you already suffer from NIHL, the damage is permanent. Nevertheless, hearing aids have been repeatedly proven to help treat this condition. Hearing aids amplify the sounds around you so you can hear more easily. They will not completely correct your hearing like glasses can do for your eyes, but they have helped millions worldwide improve their hearing. 

If you believe that you’re struggling with noise-induced hearing loss, please contact us today to set up a hearing test and get back to hearing again. 

Tips for Driving with Hearing Aids

Safety is a concern every time we get into our car and hit the road. Car accidents in the U.S. reach more than 6 million per year, and the average number of motor vehicle crash deaths is 10 per 100,000 persons per year. Careful driving requires sharp visual and auditory senses to make prompt and informed choices.

Although all drivers should note these traffic safety figures, they should be taken especially seriously for those with hearing loss. Among those with hearing loss, the ability to hear critical safety signals such as honking horns, blaring sirens, and vehicle acceleration are diminished, meaning the risk of an accident increases significantly. 

Among those with hearing loss, driving with hearing aids comes highly recommended, as it dramatically improves your hearing ability. Those with untreated loss should seek out professional treatment for hearing health before continuing to drive. 

Once you have your hearing aids, here are some other things you can do to ensure a safe experience while on the road. 


1. Test your eyes as well as your ears

If you drive with hearing aids, it is essential to ensure that your other senses are up to speed. Vision has a crucial role in keeping you safer, as it can help you stay abreast of traffic alerts, read traffic signs and notice flashing emergency lights even if you haven’t yet heard them. 

Annually test your vision to make sure that your prescription is up to date, whether wearing glasses or contact lenses. If you noticed any sudden changes in your vision, visit your optometrist as soon as you can.

2. Stay vigilant of your surroundings

It is essential to keep your eyes on the road while driving. Visual indicators are critical when driving. Be more mindful of traffic signals, and use your side and rearview mirrors regularly. 

Hearing loss affects the ability to identify the relative distance of moving vehicles, so it is essential to be aware of your environment to protect yourself and other drivers.

3. Lower the number of distractions

Not being distracted means you can focus entirely on the drive. But driving with hearing aids means maintaining a relatively quiet vehicle is especially important. Set the radio or music level to low enough not to disturb your drive. 

If you travel with noisy passengers, you might want to ask them to keep down their voices. You will be able to carry on a conversation while driving, with hearing aids in place. But when you need to listen for other sounds, do not hesitate to postpone the discussion. 

You can also ask other passengers to keep their voices down while the vehicle is in motion, as driving with hearing aids puts even greater importance on a quiet car. 

Sometimes opening the windows at high speeds can be too much for your hearing aids, and you might want to drive on the highway with the air conditioning instead of being exposed to the noisy wind.

4. Keep a card visor in your car

In case you need to deal with a traffic officer or highway patrol, you may want to consider carrying a visor card clipped inside your windshield viewfinder. The card is a clear way to tell the officer you might have trouble hearing their directions.

You should put your visor down and swing it towards your window if you’re pulled over and then hold your hands onto the wheel. Having instructions in writing can help keep communication clear at a traffic stop. You can order or download visor cards online.

5. Perform regular maintenance

If you are driving with hearing loss, regular maintenance of your vehicle is especially important. There’s a chance you might miss the warning beep from the dashboard, or you may not hear the rattling under the hood. If you miss the small noises, if it turns into a larger sound, you’ll have a much bigger problem. Make sure you regularly service your car.

Treating Hearing Loss

Better hearing – which begins with treating your hearing loss – will help keep you active both mentally and physically, whether on the road or off it. Call us and schedule your annual hearing test today.