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Noise Exposure and Hearing Protection

​​​Noise Exposure and Hearing Protection

On a daily basis, many people participate in occupational (construction, factory, etc.) and recreational (sporting events, hunting, etc.) activities with high impact noise or consistent exposure to loud noise volumes.

Estimates suggest that 15% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 years old have hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to loud sound1. Unsafe noise levels may be a consequence of a job or something intended to generate excitement; however, unsafe noise levels can lead to hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

How Does Loud Noise Damage Hearing?

Sound enters the ear canal and causes the eardrum to vibrate, which sets three bones into motion within the middle ear. The louder the sound, the more these middle ear bones vibrate. That vibration is transferred to the inner ear where sound is detected. High pitches are detected near the base of the inner ear and, as a result, are first to be damaged by loud noise. A single exposure to impact noise, such as a gunshot, can be sufficient to cause immediate and irreversible hearing loss.

Prolonged exposure to loud environments can lead to hearing loss. Recent research suggests that even if noise exposure is not enough to cause an immediate hearing loss, hearing loss can develop later on in life2. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable and unfortunately, 'ear'-reversible.

Tinnitus Can Be Caused By Loud Noise

In addition to hearing loss, loud noise exposure can cause tinnitus. Tinnitus is ringing, roaring, pulsing, whooshing, chirping, whistling or clicking that is perceived when no other sound is present in the environment. Noise-induced tinnitus can occur immediately following an exposure to a loud sound or may be gradually perceived the longer an individual is exposed to a loud environment.

Tinnitus can be short-lived and resolve within minutes or become longstanding. Tinnitus is a symptom of damage in the auditory system, including damage to tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Sometimes tinnitus is even perceived in people with normal hearing.

How to Protect Your Hearing

Hearing protection devices include earplugs and earmuffs, which can be used to help reduce the potential for hearing loss and tinnitus from loud sound. The effectiveness of hearing protection is dependent on maintaining a good seal in or around the ear. Comfort is also important, as consistent use of hearing protection will best be achieved if the devices are comfortable. If communication is essential either for the job or for safety purposes, then the use of electronic hearing protection is recommended. A custom-fit hearing protection device is also a great investment if the user will need to wear hearing protection for extended periods of time.

More Hearing Tips

  • Always wear ear plugs or earmuffs around loud noises
  • Turn the volume down on headphones and limit use to 30-60 minutes at a time.
  • Take a break from noise – if you're at a concert or bar, take 5-10 minutes regularly and step outside to let your ears rest.
  • Get regular hearing exams with an audiologist. Hearing damage is irreversible, but hearing aids can help. Going without hearing aids can cause more long-term damage.

For more information, or to schedule a consultation, contact Boys Town Audiology.

  1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
  2. ​Kujawa, S.G. & Liberman, M.C. (2006). Acceleration of Age-Related Hearing Loss by Early Noise Exposure: Evidence of a Misspent Youth. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26(7), 2115-2123.
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