What You Need to Know About Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Each day we hear sounds around us in our environment, from our television, household appliances, or on our daily commute in traffic. Typically, these sounds are at safe levels that don’t damage our ability to hear. However, if we are exposed to sounds that are too loud, even for a short amount of time, they can be harmful. These loud noises can damage the sensitive structures found in our ear and cause something known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
NIHL is becoming more prevalent in our increasingly noisy world. In fact, the World Health Organization considers NIHL a public health priority. NIHL can take hold immediately, or it can affect you gradually over time. It can either be temporary or permanent, and it can affect one or both ears. Even if you can’t tell that you are damaging your ears now, you could have trouble hearing later on in life. You might start to not understand what people are saying when they talk, especially during phone conversations or in noisy rooms.
Regardless of whether or not NIHL will affect you, it’s important to understand that noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable.
Who is at risk of NIHL?
Almost everyone is at risk of experiencing noise-induced hearing loss, but it is more common among individuals who have jobs in high-noise environments. For example, careers in mining, machinery, manufacturing, oil and gas production, building construction, and transportation are jobs that come with a high risk of developing NIHL. Even working in jobs in dentistry, music, or teaching, though, can take their toll on your hearing over time.
Occupational hearing damage can either occur suddenly, like after an extremely loud blast or sound, or after years of working in a constantly noisy environment like a warehouse or factory. However, while NIHL is a common injury, it is preventable. If damage does occur, it will be treatable.
Noise is typically described as unwanted sounds, but music can be just as damaging to your hearing if you listen to it loudly enough and you are exposed long enough. This is true especially if you use earbuds or headphones to listen to music.
Damaging noises can be brief but intense (impulse noise), or prolonged at a lower intensity (continuous noise).
Impulse noise describes a very loud but short dosage of sound. When you have unprotected exposure to this type of sound, it can cause something called “acoustic trauma,” which can result in permanent hearing damage. A single exposure like hearing a gunshot or fireworks, or brief repeated exposure like a jackhammer can cause immediate damage to your hearing.
Continuous noise happens over time from having repeated exposure to loud noises, like listening to headphones at a high volume each day. You should therefore always listen to music at the lowest, most comfortable setting.
What are the symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss?
Many individuals will experience some of these symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss:
- Having a noticeable change in hearing after being exposed to a loud noise.
- Experiencing ear pain after exposure to a loud noise.
- Suffering from tinnitus, which is a ringing, whooshing, or buzzing sound in one or both ears. This might be temporary after loud noise exposure.
- Hearing, but not being able to understand what others are saying, or a sense that other people are mumbling.
- Having trouble following conversations in a busy environment, like a restaurant.
- Having loved ones or friends commenting that you are speaking too loud, or that you have the television volume turned up too loud.
How can you prevent NIHL?
NIHL is one of the only types of hearing loss that can be completely preventable. If you have the knowledge and understanding of the different hazards of noise and how to practice good hearing health, then you can protect your hearing for life. Follow these tips:
- Learn which noises can cause damage to your hearing;
- Wear earplugs or other protective hearing devices when participating in a loud activity;
- If you cannot reduce the noise or protect against it, then move away from it;
- Be mindful of hazardous noises in your environment;
- Protect children’s ears who are too young to do so on their own;
- Help spread knowledge about the hazards of noise to your loved ones, friends, and colleagues;
- Get your hearing tested if you think you might have hearing loss.
Having good hearing and communication are important no matter what stage of life you are in. Statistics Canada reports that 21% of adults have mild hearing loss, and 7% of adults will experience “declining” hearing loss. Hearing loss is more prevalent in individuals over 50 years old. Hearing loss can be avoided through taking preventative actions, and those who are at risk should get their hearing checked regularly since hearing loss can be easily addressed when it is discovered in a timely manner.
Some Tips for Healthy Hearing
Make an appointment for a comprehensive hearing exam. Just like for your body and your eyesight, you need to have annual comprehensive hearing tests, especially as you get older. You can take our free online hearing test, or you can book a comprehensive hearing exam at our clinic.
Protect your ears. You can avoid hearing damage while in loud environments by using the right ear protection. There are many different ear plugs available for every lifestyle. You can find ear plugs for loud venues, hunting, motorsport events, noisy workplaces, or even to quiet any background noise and get a better sleep at night.
Avoid using Q-tips. Using Q-tips improperly can lead to damage in your ear canal or even hearing loss. If you do have earwax that needs to be removed, then you should visit your hearing healthcare provider.
Turn the volume down while listening to music. When you are listening to music, you can turn it up to the volume where you can hear it comfortably, but you shouldn’t push it any higher than that. We also recommend only using headphones for an hour at a time and taking a break after each hour.
For more information about hearing loss or to book your hearing test in Toronto, call Hearing Solutions at 1-888-811-9979 or contact us here.
Chow, V. (2021, March 8). Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and noise levels of common sounds. Hearing Directory. https://www.hearingdirectory.ca/help/hearing-loss/noise-induced-hearing-loss.
Government of Canada, S. C. (2015, November 27). Prevalence of hearing loss among Canadians aged 20 to 79: AUDIOMETRIC results from the 2012/2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2015007/article/14206-eng.htm.
NHS. (n.d.). NHS choices. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/-5-ways-to-prevent-hearing-loss-/.
Noise hazards in the workplace. WSIB. (n.d.). https://www.wsib.ca/en/noise-hazards-workplace.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Noise-induced hearing loss. National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss.
World Health Organization. (n.d.). World Hearing Day 2021: Hearing care for all. https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2021/03/03/default-calendar/world-hearing-day-2021-hearing-care-for-all.
World Health Organization. (n.d.). World report on hearing. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/world-report-on-hearing.