Many things can cause hearing loss, including genetics and normal aging. However, one of the most common and preventable causes of hearing loss is loud or excessive noise exposure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40 million Americans aged 20-69 have noise-based hearing loss. That’s about one in four people within that age group.
Noise-induced hearing loss commonly occurs with long-term exposure to loud noise -- such as high-volume music or loud machinery -- but can also be caused by short-term or even one-time exposure to something abnormally loud. Particularly when loud sounds are close to the ear do they pose a threat to aural health.
Hearing loss is generally grouped into two categories: conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. There is also mixed hearing loss, where the person has both types.
Conductive hearing loss is due to damage, disease or blockage within the structural ear -- the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear. Sensorineural hearing loss, meanwhile, entails damage to the nerves within the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss occurs because sound cannot travel properly through the ear due to a blockage or bone abnormality, while sensorineural hearing loss happens because the actual hearing nerves within the ear are damaged.
Noise-induced hearing loss can be conductive or sensorineural, though usually it’s the latter.
And while conductive hearing loss is often correctable with medicines or surgery, sensorineural usually isn’t -- though it can be mitigated with the use of hearing aids.
Causes of noise-based hearing loss include loud music with earbuds or headphones, loud concerts, motorcycles, fireworks, gunshots and noisy equipment like leaf-blowers, lawn-mowers or electric tools.
Common symptoms of noise-based ear damage include diminished hearing and tinnitus, which is the perception of noise or ringing in the ear. In some cases, Tinnitus is very intermittent, though in others it is more persistent. The condition itself poses no health danger, though the persistent sensation of ringing can be very bothersome.
Noise-induced hearing loss is largely preventable. To reduce your risk, avoid exposure to excessively loud noises like blaring music and fireworks. Also, if you’re using loud equipment, remember to wear earmuffs or earplugs to soften the noise.