What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is caused by overexposure to loud sounds. This could be exposure to a single instance of intense sound, like an explosion or a gunshot, or extended exposure to continuous loud noise, such as loud music on headphones or power tools in the workplace. In some cases NIHL can be temporary while in others it is permanent. Sound is measured in decibels (dB). A generally safe decibel level for sound is around 75 dB. It is unlikely that hearing loss will occur even with extended exposure at this level. Once you increase this level to 85 dB, however, hearing loss becomes a risk. The time it takes for hearing loss to occur depends on how loud the sound is – the louder the noise, the quicker you will experience hearing damage. How loud is it?
- Normal conversation – 60 dB
- Motorcycle – 95 dB
- Front row at a rock concert – 120 dB
- Formula 1 race car at full throttle– 147 dB
As you can see, a Formula 1 race car is far above the 75dB safe zone, indicating that prolonged exposure is a risk for permanent hearing damage. Noise induced hearing loss can manifest itself in a few ways:
- Damage to the inner ear causing the loss of high frequency hearing sensitivity over time.
- It usually occurs in both ears, but may not occur at equal severity in both ears depending on how the NIHL occurred and which ear was closer to that occurrence.
- Noise induced hearing loss can also occur as tinnitus – buzzing, ringing, or hissing in the ear, preventing the sufferer from experiencing quiet.
How to Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Prevention is the only real way to eliminate the risk of NIHL. If you plan to attend a Formula 1 race or participate in some other activity that produces sudden or consistent loud noise, there are measures you can take to protect your ears and your hearing:
- If and when possible, put some distance between yourself and the noise source to lower the decibel level.
- Wear hearing protection – Earplugs or earmuffs. Ensure they are properly fitted to your ears, if you need help with this see an audiologist.
- After exposure, take some quiet time to yourself to allow your ears to stop ringing and fully recover.
- Make hearing health part of your lifestyle by avoiding situations of loud and prolonged noises.
- If you think you may have hearing loss, go get yourself tested!