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Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Hearing loss caused by loud noise exposure is usually preventable.  It is estimated that one third of hearing loss is caused by noise.  Consider that 36 million people in this country have hearing loss- that means that as many as 13 million people are experiencing hearing loss that is preventable!

The damage caused by exposure to loud noise and music is typically permanent.  Imagine repeatedly pounding on a fragile object with force.  That is what is happening to the microscopic hair cells when intense sound enters the inner ear.   

Noise comes in many forms. Potential damage is measured using a combination of volume measures and the duration of exposure.  If the sound is extremely intense, the damage can occur in only a few seconds.  For less loud sounds, the damage may occur over many hours and many days. 

Occupational noise in the private sector occurs with loud equipment.  Occupational noise is controlled by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), who mandate noise measurement and the use of prevention procedures.  Using earplugs, earmuffs, and enclosing loud machinery in cases all reduce the level of noise entering the employees’ ears.

Recreational noise is not monitored by any agency.  Each individual is responsible for reducing their risk.  Recreational noise includes gunfire, and power tools.  Music is not noise, but carries all the same risks when too loud.  Many professional musicians have made public their experience with loud music and have warned others of the toll it can takes on hearing.

Accidents that involve loud impact noise such as from bombs, firecrackers, explosions, and airbag deployments can also cause permanent hearing loss.  Unfortunately, most of these are not preventable. 

Preventing the permanent damage to the ear involves the use of ear protection,  reducing the level of the noise, and increasing the distance between you and the noise which will reduce the level. 

Many people experience ringing (called tinnitus) in their ears after exposure, which can serve as a warning that they should protect their ears.  The initial effects  from noise exposure is loss of  high frequency hearing and may not be obvious when listening to speech in quiet, but may interfere with listening in situations when there is background noise.

If there has been noise exposure, a baseline hearing test is recommended to measure current hearing levels and use as comparison for future tests


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