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What is Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is damage to your hearing by loud sounds, i.e. at work, gigs, festivals, nightclubs or using your iPod/mp3 player etc.

Do I have to be listening to loud music for long periods of time in one go?

No, NIHL can be cause by a one-time exposure to an extremely loud sound/noise, such as an explosion.

If I listen to loud music/noises for long periods of time, what can happen?

You have a high risk of damaging your hearing permanently.

I’m only young, will my hearing get damaged?

People of all ages, including children and teenagers can develop NIHL. It depends on the sensitivity of your ears to sound/noise, and there is no way of knowing if you are at more risk than anyone else until the damage is done.

What problems can be caused by noise?

Two main types of hearing loss can result from exposure to noise:

  • Temporary Threshold Shift: this is the most commonly noticed as a temporary ’dullness’ in hearing after you have been exposed to loud noises. Your hearing will subsequently recover, but the length of recovery will depend on factors such as the loudness and the duration of the noise.

  • Permanent Threshold Shift: If your hearing does not recover completely after a period of 48 hours, then the remaining loss is considered permanent.
    1. Noise-induced or occupational deafness results when you have been regularly exposed to noise over a long period of time. You will gradually acquire a sensory-neural hearing loss which is usually most severe in the high frequencies at around 4-6kHz. Generally you’re hearing will be similar in both ears and will get worse while you continue to be exposed to loud noises.

    2. Acoustic trauma occurs when you are exposed to a very high sound level for a short period of time, e.g. the sound of an explosion. This type of sound can cause a hearing loss of sudden onset which is often more severe in the ear closet to the source of the sound. You will usually experience a sensory-neural hearing loss, but in some cases, a very intense sound (140dB or greater) can cause a perforation of the eardrum.

What are the practical effects of noise-induced hearing loss?

You may notice a gradual decline in your hearing. You are likely to find that sound is distorted and speech seems ’muffled’. The lack of clarity is usually due to the detrimental effect of a high frequency hearing loss on certain speech sounds (such as s, f, th, etc.). You will have difficulty understanding conversation, especially where a few people are talking or if you are in a noisy environment.

Can noise-induced hearing loss get better or worse?

Once permanent damage has occurred within the cochlea, there is currently no treatment or surgery that can reverse it. The only effective way of ’curing’ noise-induced hearing loss must therefore be by preventing in the first place.

As long as you continue to be exposed to noise your hearing might continue to deteriorate. In addition, some deterioration in hearing ability often occurs as people get older and those with a noise-induced hearing loss are unfortunately not exempt. The combination of a mild noise-induced hearing loss (of which you may not even have been aware) and an age-related deterioration can result in a much more disabling condition than either would have done alone.

It is almost always worth trying a hearing aid if you have noise-induced hearing loss. Whilst it will never be able to restore your hearing to normal, it may improve your hearing in particular situations and reduce your awareness of any tinnitus.

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