Like the healthy functioning of many systems within the human body, our hearing and its longevity is impacted by a complex orchestra of genetic and environmental factors. The most well-known culprit for acquired hearing loss is aging itself, which wears away at the health of the integral inner ear cells. Because its causes are so layered, it can be difficult to predict and thus prevent the onset of age-related hearing loss.
Noise, however, is another leading cause of the hearing loss encountered after birth. Unlike age-related hearing loss, the root of noise-induced hearing loss is a bit more transparent. There are clear cut ways to protect the healthy hearing you have by turning down the volume on noise-induced hearing loss.
How Excessive Noise Impacts Hearing
We’ve all stood too close to the speakers at a concert or continued to sit in a movie theater noticing that the volume was too extreme for our ears. Our ears can handle loud noises for short amounts of time. But the damage it causes to the important inner ear cells can accumulate over time resulting in deteriorating hearing health.
Both the aging process and excessive exposure to noise negatively impact the inner ear cells which are responsible for collecting noise from around us and turning it into sound information. From the inner ear, the sound information (in the form of electrical signals) is then sent to the brain, where it is processed into meaning. It’s an almost instantaneous process.
We are born with a reserve of inner ear cells that help us to hear the full spectrum of sound available. When these cells are lost due to noise exposure or aging, we have less of them to serve as the collection point of sound. The inner ear cells interpret less sound, the brain receives less information, and we lose access to certain frequencies.
We measure sound in units called decibels. Zero decibels register the quietest sounds the human ear can hear. A whisper is around 20 decibels, conversation around 60 decibels and a lawnmower comes in at about 90 decibels. The ears can be exposed to sounds below 80 decibels with no risk of hearing loss. When volumes rise above this threshold, hearing health becomes vulnerable.
As noise becomes louder, our window of time in which it is safe for us to listen gets smaller. We can withstand 85 decibels for around eight hours, but only one hour at 95 decibels. The rate at which our safe window of time narrows can be dramatic, quickly. At 100 decibels, the sound an average set of headphones emits, that window shrinks to only 15 minutes.
Turn Down The Risk Of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
As of today, it’s impossible to change our genetics and accurately predict environmental factors in advance to completely eliminate our risk of age-related hearing loss, though there are reasonable steps to take. We do, however, have a fighting chance at protecting our ears from noise-induced hearing loss using minimal intervention. We can all start practicing responsible listening behaviors and begin to instill their importance into the next generations.
Safe listening habits
- Keep volumes on personal devices at or below the midpoint. Never exceed two-thirds of maximum volume.
- Notice your sound environments. If something feels too loud, let yourself take breaks in a quiet spot to give your ears a rest.
- Use apps like DecibelX to monitor the decibel levels of environments with accuracy.
- Use the Health app on iphones to check in on your weekly audio levels.When attending events that are notoriously loud (sporting events, concerts, boating), pack ear plugs or other hearing protection.
- Consider putting a volume lock on smartphones, tablets or other devices, particularly when used by children.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Is Highly Treatable
Like age-related hearing loss, the damage done by excessive noise causes irreversible hearing loss. Thankfully, it is also a highly treatable condition with successful, proven interventions like hearing aids and cochlear implants.
If you’ve noticed recent changes in your hearing health or feel you’ve been impacted by exposure to excessive noise, make an appointment to come see us. We can lead you through a simple hearing exam to determine if you are a good candidate for treatment.