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Published on: 17 June 2015

Loud noises and your hearing

Understanding how we hear will help you to understand how loud noise can hurt your hearing.

Loud noises and your hearing

How can I tell if I am listening to dangerous noise levels?

  • You must raise your voice to be heard.
  • You can't hear someone 1 meter away from you.
  • Speech around you sounds muffled or dull after you leave the noisy area.
  • You have pain or ringing in your ears (this is called "tinnitus") after exposure to noise.

How can loud noise damage hearing?

Understanding how we hear will help you to understand how loud noise can hurt your hearing. This happens in the following way:

  • The loud sound is collected by the ear as sound waves. The sound waves travel down the ear canal toward the eardrum with enough force to disrupt the delicate hearing system. If the sound is loud enough, it can dislodge the tiny bones of the middle ear.
  • The loud sound passes through the middle ear and travels to the inner ear, also known as the cochlea. The tiny hair cells lining this fluid-filled chamber can be damaged as the loud sound reaches the inner ear.
  • Only healthy hair cells can send electrical impulses to the brain. It is in the brain that the sound is understood and interpreted. Hair cells damaged by loud sound cannot send the impulse to the brain for interpretation.
  • Intense brief noises, like a firecracker or an explosion, can damage hair cells, as can continuous and/or repeated exposure to high levels of noise.
  • Once the hair cells are damaged, there is no current treatment to repair them.

How else can loud noise be harmful→

  • Loud noise can increase fatigue and cause irritability.
  • Noise can reduce the ability to pay attention to tasks. This is a concern at the workplace when it comes to workers' safety.
  • Noise can also reduce productivity.
  • Noisy classrooms can make it harder for children to learn.
  • Noisy backgrounds can make understanding conversation harder. The noise can mask or cover up some of the sounds of speech, making a word like "time" sound like "dime." More concentration and energy are needed not only to listen and hear over the noise but also to speak louder.
  • Another common effect of loud sound on hearing is tinnitus. Tinnitus is ringing, buzzing, or other sounds in the ear.

How can I protect my own or my child’s hearing from loud noise?

The key words are education and prevention!

Can my ears get used to noise?

Don't be fooled by thinking your ears are "tough" or that you have the ability to "tune it out"! Noise-induced hearing loss is usually gradual and painless but, unfortunately, permanent. Once destroyed, the hearing nerve and its sensory nerve cells do not repair. If you think you have "gotten used to" the noise you routinely encounter, you may already have some hearing damage.

Hearing in childrenServices
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