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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 that may be the source of an invisible disability. Estimates suggest that 15 percent 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.

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 percent preventable and unfortunately, ‘ear’-reversible.

In addition to hearing loss, noise exposure can cause ringing, roaring, pulsing, whooshing, chirping, whistling or clicking that is perceived when no other sound is present in the environment. These sounds are called tinnitus. 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.

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.

For more information, or to schedule a consultation, contact Boys Town Audiology at one of the following locations:

Boys Town Medical Campus – Downtown Clinic – phone: 402-498-6520
Boys Town Medical Campus – Pacific Street Clinic – phone: 402-778-6800
Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic – Council Bluffs, IA – phone: 712-256-5272

  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.