How does noise cause hearing loss?
Noise can damage the nerve parts of the ear and this can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Find out how it happens.
Hearing loss can be temporary or permanent
Hearing loss is a reduction in your ability to hear or understand speech and the sounds around you. Hearing loss can occur when any part of the ear or the nerves that carry information about sounds to your brain don't work properly. In some cases, hearing loss can be temporary. However, it can become permanent when vital parts of the ear are damaged beyond repair. Damage to any part of the ear can lead to hearing loss.
Noise is particularly harmful to the inner ear (cochlea). A single exposure to extremely loud sound or listening to loud sounds for long periods of time can cause hearing loss. Excessive noise can damage the cells and membranes in the cochlea. Listening to loud noise for long periods of time can overload the hair cells in the ear, which can cause these cells to die. Hearing loss progresses as long as exposure continues. Harmful effects may continue even after noise exposure has ended. Damage to the inner ear or auditory nervous system is generally permanent.
Damaged hair cells in your ears can lead to hearing loss
The average person is born with approximately 16,000 hair cells inside the cochlea. These cells allow your brain to detect sounds. Up to 30%-50% of hair cells can be damaged or destroyed before changes in your hearing can be measured with a hearing test. By the time you notice hearing loss, many of the hair cells have been destroyed and cannot be repaired.
After leaving a very loud event, such as a concert or football game, you may notice that you can't hear as well as before. You may not hear a whisper, the sound may seem muffled, or you may hear ringing in your ears. Normal hearing usually returns within a few hours to a few days. However, after recovery, they become equal again.
However, if the loud noise damages too many hair cells, some of them will die. Repeated exposure to loud noise will destroy many hair cells over time. This can gradually reduce your ability to understand speech in noisy places. Finally, if the hearing loss continues, it can be difficult to understand speech even in quieter places.
Noise can also damage the nerves in the ears
In addition to damaging hair cells, noise can also damage the auditory nerve, which carries information about sounds to your brain. Early damage may not show up on a hearing test. It can cause 'hidden hearing loss' which can make it difficult for you to understand speech in noisy places. The effect of loud noise over time affects how well you hear later in life. It also affects how quickly you may develop hearing problems.
Sound is a basic way of communication that also orients us to our environment; however, the inner ear is very sensitive to the balance of sound it perceives. But one thing is clear in short: too loud sound is harmful.