Hearing loss caused by exposure to recreational noise levels is a lifelong disability that can easily be prevented by avoiding excessive noise and using hearing protection, such as earplugs.
Q. What exactly is noise-induced hearing loss?
A. Noise-induced hearing loss is when we are exposed to harmful noises (sounds that are too loud or loud sounds that last a long time) that damage the structure of the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is the second-most common form of sensorineural hearing deficit, after presbycusis (age-related hearing loss). The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that about 28 million Americans have lost some or all of their hearing, and as many as 10 million have hearing loss caused in part by excessive noise exposure in the workplace or during recreational activities.
Q. How does noise exposure cause hearing loss?
A. Very loud sounds damage the inner ear by damaging the hair cells of the cochlea. Initially, the loss is temporary and can be reversed, but if the ear is exposed to loud sounds over longer periods of time, the hair cells can be permanently damaged. Permanent noise-induced hearing loss therefore represents excessive “wear and tear” on the delicate inner ear structures. Attending rock concerts and the use iPods and other personal music players all contribute to hearing loss.
Q. What sound levels are considered harmful?
A. Sound levels above 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss. Normal conversation levels are usually around 60 decibels and a whisper is 30 decibels. Patients should be aware that various medical studies have found sound levels at rock concerts often to be significantly higher than 85 decibels, with some reports suggesting that sound intensity may reach 90 decibels to as high as 122 decibels. Frequent concertgoers may experience some potentially irreversible hearing loss from this experience.
Q. Should individuals wear ear plugs to avoid hearing loss?
A. Research supports the use of ear plugs to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. A research study, “Incidence of Spontaneous Hearing Threshold Shifts during Modern Concert Performances,” from the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis examined sound intensity throughout a well-known concert venue and confirmed the effectiveness of earplugs.
Noise exposure levels are equally hazardous in all parts of the concert hall or auditorium, regardless of the type of music played. You should use earplugs at every type of musical concert, regardless of your distance from the stage. A good rule of thumb for your family: when attending any activity or location with excessive noise, ear protection should be worn by everyone.
Q. Can noise induced hearing loss be prevented?
A. Yes, it can be prevented by avoiding excessive noise and using hearing protection such as earplugs and earmuffs. Hearing loss caused by exposure to recreational and occupational noise results in devastating disability that is virtually 100 percent preventable.
About Scott Kaszuba, MD:
Dr. Scott Kaszuba practices with Midwest ENT Consultants, which has an office in Plainfield. Kaszuba has published and presented papers on his clinical and scientific research for peer-reviewed societies at numerous national meetings. He specializes in the medical and surgical management of both adult and pediatric ear, nose and throat problems. His scope of practice emphasizes sinus disorders including allergy, head and neck tumors including thyroid, parathyroid and salivary gland surgery, as well as management of airway and swallowing disorders.