Causes of hearing loss can include heredity, aging, injury, diseases, acoustic tumors, ototoxic drug use, and others. However, noise-induced hearing loss is among the most devastating. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports, “An estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise.” The saddest part of this statistic is that noise-induced hearing loss is close to 100% preventable.

One of my passions as an audiologist is to do everything I can to reduce these numbers in the Fall River, Hyannis, and Dartmouth, MA areas. As a part of my commitment to this objective, here is a guide to noise-induced hearing loss and its prevention.

Causes of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

To understand noise-induced hearing loss, it is necessary to engage in a detailed examination of its various causes. These causes can be broken down into four main classifications, each of which has additional related causes within them.

Occupational Noise

The most commonly recognized causes of noise-induced hearing loss are within this category. This class includes hearing loss that is a result of prolonged exposure to harmful noises at moderate noise levels. The occupations where this type of hearing loss is most common include:

  • Factory and Line Assembly
  • Construction
  • Military

Sudden Loud Noises

This class of noise-induced hearing loss comes from unprotected exposure to sudden and unexpected, extremely loud noises. Severe damage to the ear’s structure, resulting in severe, immediate, and permanent hearing loss often follows exposure to events like:

  • Gunshots
  • Explosions
  • Firecrackers

Long-Term Exposure to Loud Sounds

Entertainment venues of various types are the common locations for this class of noise-induced hearing loss. Following events like rock concerts, clubbing, and sporting events, most participants leave with ringing in their ears as well as the sensation of muffled sound. This type of hearing loss continues for 2 to 3 hours in most cases but can go on for a few days or even weeks. The damage becomes more permanent with frequent repetition.

Frequent and Repeated Loud Noise Exposure

This class combines the other three classes, causing the most incidents of permanent noise-induced hearing loss. The damage to your ears in this class of hearing loss is the result of frequent exposure to loud noise on a regular or repeated basis. Permanent damage and hearing loss comes from unprotected exposure in daily or frequent activities such as:

  • Music played at high volumes, primarily through earbuds or headphones
  • Use of power tools, lawn and garden equipment
  • Operating motorcycles, snowmobiles, vacuum cleaners, and other household appliances

Prevention of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Where it is true that hearing damage can occur due to accidental causes, the vast majority, approaching close to 100% of noise-induced hearing loss cases, are preventable. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines mandate protection for those whose occupations expose them to various levels of damaging noise. They have established safeguards to reduce noise-induced hearing loss resulting from occupational exposure to noise. In these cases, compliance might be enforced within your organization, or it might be your own personal responsibility to comply.

Outside of the workplace, however, preventing noise-induce hearing loss ALWAYS requires personal responsibility. Some ways that you can prevent damage from loud or moderate noise exposure include:

  • Wear earplugs, earmuffs, or other forms of hearing protection when shooting firearms, operating machinery, appliances or power tools, and at concerts and other entertainment venues.
  • Avoid environments where sudden loud noises or long-term noise exposure is likely. When this is unavoidable, take the necessary precautions to protect your ears.
  • Turn down your radio, television, smartphone, iPod, etc., and make sure that your children keep their devices at noise levels at or below 70 dBA (the ability to hear normal conversation, without shouting, at just beyond arms-length).
  • Have your hearing tested regularly. This only helps if you are honest with your audiologist about the frequency and volume of noise present in your occupation or lifestyle, and follow their noise protection guidelines.

For me, the saddest part of noise-induced hearing loss is that it is preventable, but few people make a conscious effort to protect themselves from it. Take the time to identify occupational and lifestyle activities that have the potential to damage your hearing, and do what it takes to prevent that damage from occurring. The team at Duncan Hearing Healthcare, and I are always available to provide you with guidance concerning hearing loss prevention and protection.

Contact us for more advice and tips for avoiding noise-induced hearing loss in Hyannis, MA, and the surrounding areas, or contact the Duncan Hearing Healthcare clinic nearest to you.

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Nancy Duncan, Au.D.

Nancy Duncan, Au.D.

Dr. Duncan’s Southcoast roots run deep, establishing a special connection to the community where she practices. A homegrown product, she graduated from Somerset High, just across the Taunton from Fall River, and received her B.S. in communication disorders and psychology from Worcester State College. Her master of science in audiology was awarded at the University of Arkansas in 1997, after which she worked for several private audiology practices in Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.