Recommended by Daniel Merenda, MD, ENT specialist at United Hospital Center.
Noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, can occur when loud noises damage the inner ear. In today’s conversation, join Daniel Merenda, MD, ENT specialist at United Hospital Center, as he shares the science behind NIHL and describes steps one can take to prevent it.
Noise-induced hearing loss is often associated with decibel levels. What should we know about decibel levels, and what are the symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss?
Sound intensity is measured in decibels – the more intense the sound, the higher its decibel (dB) level. As decibel level and sound intensity rises, so does one’s risk for NIHL. When discussing risk for NIHL, decibel level and the length of time someone listens to a specific sound should be considered. For example, listening to music at volumes louder than 85 dB for long periods can cause permanent hearing loss.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) permit workers to listen to 85 dB for eight hours in a row. However, for every three dB above that, the time that is considered safe is divided in half. That means you are only recommended to listen:
- At 88 dB for four hours
- At 91 dB for two hours
- At 94 dB for one hour
- At 97 dB for 30 minutes
- At 100 dB for 15 minutes
Some familiar sounds you may hear in your everyday life and their corresponding decibel levels include:
- An average portable music player: Often played at 100 dB
- Cellphones or listening devices in the U.S. can produce a maximum of 115 dB
- The “sounds of summer”—concerts, fireworks, motorcycles, sirens, and even firearms: Range anywhere from 95 to 150 decibels (dB)
For more examples, visit this resource from the CDC.
Prolonged or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dB can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss.
Will symptoms of NIHL be noticed immediately? Hearing loss may only be noticeable for high-pitched sounds in its early stages. As additional hearing loss occurs, one’s ability to hear volume may remain unaffected, but they may notice worsened sound quality – such as fuzziness, less clarity, or uncertainty. With the progression of hearing loss comes difficulty in understanding speech, especially if background noise is present. Ringing or buzzing sounds, also known as tinnitus, may occur.
How Does Noise Exposure Cause Hearing Loss?
Very loud sounds damage the hair cells of the cochlea, the hearing part of the inner ear. These sensitive structures are small sensory cells that convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain, converting them into meaningful sounds. Once damaged, they cannot regain their original capabilities, losing the ability to transmit sound.
When loud sounds are exposed to the ear for a short time, one may experience temporary hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus). If the ear is exposed to loud sounds over more extended periods, the hair cells can be damaged forever, causing permanent sensorineural hearing loss.
How Can You Help Protect Your Child’s Hearing?
Taking these steps today to protect your child’s hearing can significantly impact their hearing later in life:
- Wear earplugs, earmuffs, or other ear protection to lessen the impact of loud noise on a child’s ears. Parents: encourage children attending loud sporting events, concerts, or even those who are musicians to wear ear protection to help reduce the chance of NIHL.
- Earplugs can reduce sound energy hitting young ears by about 25 dB.
- Set personal music players, smartphones, gaming device headsets, televisions, and stereo equipment to a low volume.
- If your children are exposed to other noisy environments or workplaces with loud machinery, lessen their exposure to high sound intensity by choosing quieter activities for leisure time.
Have any further questions or need to make an appointment? Please contact UHC ENT and Audiology at 681-342-3570.
To learn more about pediatric ENT health, listen to part 1 of our conversation with Brandy Straface, physician assistant at United Hospital Center.
Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.