Can Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Be Reversed? 

June 13, 2024 0

Prolonged exposure to loud noises or sudden bursts of sound can damage the delicate structures in our ears, leading to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The damage caused by NIHL is permanent, but with the right preventative care, it can be stopped. In this blog, we explain why noise-induced hearing loss cannot be reversed and we’ll discuss strategies to safeguard your hearing for years to come. 

Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 40 million people in the U.S. aged 20-69 years have noise-induced hearing loss. NIHL is a common form of sensorineural hearing loss that occurs when loud sounds damage the delicate hair cells within the inner ear.  

These tiny hair cells are responsible for converting noise vibrations into electrical signals that our brain needs to interpret sounds. If they are damaged, they do not regenerate, and this essential auditory process is interrupted, resulting in hearing loss. 

How Loud Noise Affects Your Hearing

Close up of an older adult women with sensorineural hearing loss, holding her hand to her ear to try and hear better

Decibels (dB) are a unit of measurement that quantifies the intensity of sound, with higher numbers indicating louder noises. While quieter sounds (69 dB and under) are safe, prolonged exposure to anything above 70 dB has the potential to cause irreversible damage to your hearing. The louder the noise (higher dB), the faster this damage occurs. 

Below, we look at how loud noise can impact your hearing, ranging from the temporary effects of brief exposure to the permanent effects of prolonged or extreme exposure. 

Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) 

If you have ever experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears after attending a loud event, this is called a temporary threshold shift (TTS). TTS is caused by the tiny hair cells in your inner ear becoming fatigued or overstimulated due to exposure to loud noises. 

Some common symptoms of TTS include: 

  • Ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound (like tinnitus) 
  • Muffled or distorted hearing
  • Feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears
  • Reduced sensitivity to soft sounds 

Temporary threshold shifts are a warning sign that your ears have been exposed to potentially damaging noise levels. After some rest and quiet time, the symptoms of TSS will typically subside within a day or so, and your hearing goes back to normal. However, repeated TTS episodes can have a cumulative effect and result in permanent hearing damage.

Prolonged Exposure to Loud Noise 

Continuous exposure to loud noise without ear protection will eventually cause permanent noise-induced hearing loss. In these scenarios, damage occurs gradually over time, which can make the symptoms more subtle and harder to detect on your own. The most common sign of NIHL due to prolonged exposure is difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds or consonants like “s,” “f,” and “t.” 

One of the most common causes of NIHL is working in a loud environment every day. If the proper precautions are not taken, professions that involve working with loud machinery or equipment like on construction sites, or at airports are at risk of NIHL. 

Certain recreational activities such as regularly attending loud concerts without hearing protection, using power tools, or using headphones at high volumes also contribute to NIHL.

Instant Noise-Induced Hearing Loss 

In some cases, exposure to extremely loud noises (120+ dB) can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss. Instant NIHL, also called acoustic trauma, is caused by a single, very loud event like an explosion or gunfire and results in irreversible hearing loss. 

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Prevention Tips

A person sitting at a drum kit wearing read ear muffs hearing protection, to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)

Although noise-induced hearing loss is permanent, it is also preventable with the right habits and protective care. Below are some practical tips and easy lifestyle strategies to help safeguard against noise-induced hearing loss. 

Be Mindful of Exposure to Loud Sounds 

Properly protecting your hearing starts with knowing what puts you at the most risk. Below, we list some common noises, their average decidable levels, and the amount of time it can take them to start affecting your hearing:

Sound Source Average Decibels Duration
Normal speaking voice 69 dB or quieterNo effect at any length of time 
Home appliances like a washing machine 70 dB 8 hours of exposure 
Gas-powered tools like a lawn mower 80 dB2 hours of exposure 
Motorcycles, chainsaws, headphones at full volume90 dB 1 hour of exposure 
Live music concerts, sporting events 100 dB 15 – 20 minutes of exposure
105 dB5 minutes of exposure 
110+ dB 2 minutes of exposure 
Gun shot, fire cracks120+ dB Immediate damage 

Wear Proper Hearing Protection Devices 

Hearing protection devices (HPDs) are specifically designed to prevent harmful noise levels from reaching the inner ear. They provide a physical barrier that dampens sound waves, allowing you to reduce your exposure to loud noises for prolonged periods of time. 

There are many types of HPDs available, including: 

  • Disposable earplugs
  • Reusable earplugs
  • Earmuffs
  • Custom-molded earplugs 

All effective HPDs will have a noise reduction rating (NRR) typically indicated on their packaging. NRR is a numerical rating that represents the maximum number of decibels the device can reduce the intensity of sounds.

Use Headphones Responsibly 

Listening to music through headphones at full volume is a very common cause of NIHL. To reduce the risk of hearing damage and ensure you are using headphones responsibly, a simple strategy is to follow the 60/60 rule.  

This means listening to music at 60% volume for 60 minutes, then taking a break to allow your ears time to rest and recover. 

Give Your Ears a Break from Loud Noises 

A few minutes of quiet time every day is great for your hearing health. In addition to wearing hearing protection in loud environments, you should also give your ears regular breaks. Stepping outside or moving to a quieter area for a few minutes gives your ears an opportunity to rest and recover. 

Schedule Regular Hearing Checkups and Exams 

Regular hearing checkups are essential to monitoring and maintaining your hearing health. NIHL often progresses gradually, and by the time symptoms are noticeable, permanent damage is already done. Having routine hearing exams ensures these changes are caught early on so you can take action to prevent further damage. 

Schedule a Hearing Exam Today to Protect Your Hearing Health for Life 

Noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible, but it is also preventable. Armed with the practical tips shared in this guide, you can greatly reduce your risk of NIHL. Don’t wait until it’s too late—find an Audibel hearing clinic near you today. 

Our team of hearing healthcare specialists wants to help you experience the joy of hearing for years to come. Take the first step towards taking control of your hearing health by scheduling a hearing exam.

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