In the summer, many of us enjoy outdoor recreational activities: swimming, camping, biking, shooting, and much more.
Many of these activities, such as swimming & biking, are quiet, while others, such as shooting & motorcycles, can be quite noisy.
Most of us realize that protecting our hearing during noisy recreational activities is a good idea, but too many of us do not use hearing protection as much as we should. Better understanding noise-induced hearing loss may help us take this issue more seriously.
How does noise exposure cause hearing loss?
Our inner ear, called the cochlea, is shaped like a snail shell. The interior of the cochlea is lined with microscopic cells called hair cells that help us to hear.
These hair cells are also the weak link in our auditory system – if something is going to go wrong with our ears, it is usually the hair cells.
When exposed to loud noise, these hair cells are damaged in two ways. First, they experience mechanical damage (the intensity of the soundwaves entering the inner ear literally damages the cells).
Second, the intense metabolic energy expended by the cells during noise exposure causes excess production of something called “free radicals,” which can lead to cellular death.
Both the mechanical damage and the free radical issue cause a high-frequency hearing loss that is centered at 4000 Hz. This results in difficulty understanding speech, especially women’s and children’s voices, and in background noise. This damage is permanent and irreversible.
How can we treat noise-induced hearing loss?
The best thing we can do to treat noise-induced hearing loss is to prevent it.
Two main factors contribute to noise-induced hearing loss: the intensity of the sound and the duration of exposure.
Limiting either factor makes a big difference.
If the noise is loud, make sure the exposure time is short. For example, loud music might be okay for one song but not for an entire album.
A moderate level of noise is usually fine, but even it can be damaging if the duration of the exposure is too long.
If you know that you are going to be around loud sounds (going shooting, for example), or if you know you will be around moderate noise for a long time, use hearing protection.
Inexpensive foam earplugs are readily available as are over-the-ear earmuffs.
Custom-made hearing protection, popular among musicians and avid shooters, is also available at our clinic. Progress is being made on the use of post-exposure antioxidants and pharmacological treatments, but these methods should not be used alone.
Can Hearing Aids Help?
If the damage is done, the use of hearing aids can greatly help.
Open-fit hearing aids are designed to leave the ear canal unplugged, allowing the use of one’s natural hearing in the lower frequencies while supplementing the high-frequency hearing that has been damaged by noise.
These hearing aids typically also help in treating ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, that can frequently accompany noise-induced hearing loss.
The Most Trusted Team of Hearing and Balance Doctors in Utah and Nevada
Our clinic, Hearing & Balance Doctors, is staffed entirely by doctors of audiology that are trained to properly diagnose and treat inner ear issues.
One of the most common issues we encounter is noise-induced hearing loss. We are dedicated to helping prevent this issue as much as possible by providing proper hearing protection as well as treating this issue with hearing aids when necessary.