October is National Protect your Hearing Month to raise awareness about dangers to hearing from exposure to loud noises.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)
Every October the National institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) observes National Protect your Hearing Month. The aim is to raise awareness about the causes of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). People are for the most part unaware about how much permanent damage comes to the ears from loud noises.
According to a study by researchers from the NIDCD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), results on hearing tests show that almost 24% of American adults ages 20-69 have experienced hearing loss from loud noises. Based on the 2011-2012 CDC study involving hearing tests and interviews with participants, at least 10 million adults (6 percent) in the U.S. under age 70 and possibly as many as 40 million adults (24%) have hearing loss in one or both ears from exposure to loud noise. Researchers have also estimated that as many as 17% of teenagers (ages 12 to 19) have features of their hearing test that suggest NIHL in one or both ears (Pediatrics 2011), based on data from 2005-2006.
What Causes NIHL
Tiny hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear get damaged or even destroyed by constant exposure to loud noise or a one-time exposure to extremely loud noise. Damaged hair cells cannot send information about sound to the brain. NIHL is usually very gradual, and by the time hearing loss is noticed, permanent damage has been done.
NIHL can sometimes occur instantly in reaction to extremely loud bursts of sound, such as gunshots or explosions. These loud explosive noises can rupture the eardrum or damage the bones in the middle ear. This damage may be permanent.
It’s a Noisy Planet
The NIDCD sponsors a public education campaign, launched in 2008, called “It’s a Noisy Planet” that provides all kinds of scientific resources for parents, educators and caregivers about NIHL. These can alert them about dangers to the ears from loud noise. This campaign has successfully reached about six million people. About a million Noisy Planet publications in both English and Spanish have been distributed by the Noisy Planet. There is also a Noisy Planet Teacher Toolkit with all kinds of step-by-step instructions and hands-on activities that can provide teachers the resources to educate preteens (Grades 2-6) about the causes and prevention of NIHL.
Noisy Planet offers Training
Noisy Planet also collaborates with several other federal agencies and organizations to distribute messages about protecting hearing. Noisy Planet also trains school nurses, audiologists and 4-H leaders so that they can more effectively promote messages about healthy hearing to both students and their parents.
How to Prevent Noise-related Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss is mainly preventable. Noisy Planet lists the following steps to take to prevent noise-induced hearing loss such as:
- Lower the volume
- Move away from the noise when possible
- Wear devices to protect the ears like earplugs or earmuffs
Signs of NIHL
The NIDCD lists the following signs that may point to NIHL:
- Over time, sounds may become distorted or muffled. It may be difficult to understand other people when they talk.
- A person with NIHL may have to turn up the volume on the television, radio or video.
- NIHL may cause tinnitus which is a ringing, buzzing or roaring sound in one or both ears or the head. Tinnitis can sometimes go away, but some cases will continue throughout a person’s lifetime.
The damage from NIHL, combined with aging, can lead to hearing loss severe enough that hearing aids are necessary to magnify sounds around you to help you hear, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities.
Temporary Hearing Loss
Sometimes exposure to a sudden very loud noise or continuous exposure to loud noise causes a temporary hearing loss that disappears 16 to 48 hours later. Recent research suggests, however, that although the loss of hearing seems to disappear, there may be residual long-term damage to your hearing.
Age-related and other Causes of Hearing Loss
See our blog post from February 26, 2018 for age-related and other causes of hearing loss.
Short-term Rehabilitation or Long-term Skilled Nursing Care
If you or your loved one are in need of short-term rehabilitation or long-term skilled nursing care, the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York has a consultant ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor available for hearing problems.
There are several causes of hearing loss and some are not easily preventable such as age-related hearing loss. However, noise-induced hearing loss is in most cases preventable and it pays to avoid situations that lend exposure to loud noise.