What is hearing loss?
In order to understand hearing loss, we must know the fundamentals behind hearing. Hearing is all about turning the faint sound waves around us into electrical impulses that our brain can process. When a sound wave enters through the outer ear and bounces around the ear canal, the three tiny bones (Malleus, Incus, and Stapes) sense these miniscule vibrations and amplify them. Once the vibrations hit the cochlea, it makes the fluid inside ripple. From here, hair cells in the cochlea detect the wave and are pushed up every so slightly. This opens up certain channels that allow a chemical stimulant into the cell. With this, an electrical signal is produced and is carried to the brain via the auditory nerve. The brain recognizes the pitch of the sound based on which stereocilia were activated.
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when the hair cells die from sudden impulse sounds or prolonged loud sounds.
According to the World Health Organization, around 466 million people worldwide suffer from disabling hearing loss. People with hearing loss can benefit or in some cases regain their ability to hear through the use of hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices. Current estimates suggest an 83% gap in hearing aid device need and use (i.e. only 17% of people who need and could benefit from a hearing aid use one). Therefore one of the biggest things most people with hearing loss need and could benefit from is simply a hearing aid, as 83% of people who could benefit from one either don’t have access to or just don’t use them because of lack of education on the topic.
Another extremely beneficial point is if you can detect hearing loss early, doctors can either attempt to stop the worsening of hearing loss or slow it down rapidly. So, a simple doctor’s visit and screening could protect a little kid from having mild to severe hearing loss down the road.
What is noise-induced hearing loss?
Most NIHL is caused by the damage and eventual death of hair cells, which cannot grow back. Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by an intense impulse sound, such as an explosion, and/or by continued exposure to loud sound (>85 decibels). This is the only preventable hearing loss, and NIHL is permanent. Workplaces that pose a threat of NIHL are places where you are constantly exposed to loud sounds. This includes but is not limited to: mining, oil and gas extraction, agriculture, construction, carpentry, and the military. Hobbies like hunting, listening to loud music, and attending large concerts pose just as much of a risk too.
- You can hear, yet have trouble understanding what other people are saying, or it sounds like they are mumbling.
- You have pain in your ears following loud noise exposure.
- Other people comment that you’re talking loudly or shouting.
- You have tinnitus—ringing, whooshing, roaring or buzzing sounds in your ears—after noise exposure.
- Rarely, you may experience diplacusis, or “double hearing”
Needless to say, if exposure to loud noise were to ever happen be prepared to wear earplugs or earmuffs that effectively reduce noise.
Avoiding too much noise – As a general rule of thumb, if you need to shout over the noise, prolonged exposure to it is bad for your hearing. Sounds from motorcycles, concert speakers, power tools like saws and drills, earphones, and more are all loud enough to make a difference. Make sure to buy appliances that have low noise ratings, as even power appliances can hurt your hearing. If it’s uncomfortably loud in a restaurant or movie theater, ask the manager to turn it down.
Wearing hearing protection – Earplugs go in your ear and reduce noise by 15 – 35 decibels, and the reduction is even, so the sound will not be distorted. Earmuffs reduce noise by the same amount and go over your ear. To increase reduction, wear both.
Don’t Smoke – Your eustachian tube runs from your middle ear to the back of your throat. It equalizes the pressure in your ears, and it drains the mucous created by the lining of your middle ear. Smoking leads to problems — and even blockages — in the eustachian tube, causing pressure buildup and hearing loss.
Remove earwax properly – A buildup of earwax in your ear can muffle sound.
Check medicine – About 200 drugs can harm hearing, including high doses of aspirin. If you take a prescription medication, check with your doctor to make sure it won’t make an impact. If you must take a medication that may harm your ears, make sure your doctor checks your hearing and balance before and during your treatment.