Noise-induced hearing loss is a condition which currently affects about 10 million Americans. It is the most common preventable cause of hearing loss which is due to damage of the ear’s sensory nerve. The prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss and the number of people affected have steadily grown right along with the development of society—as more and more of man’s creations create noise pollution which damage a person’s hearing.

Probably most people understand the damage that can result from being close to a gunshot, but far fewer people are aware of potential damage from more mundane causes like leaf blowers, lawnmowers, traffic sounds, car alarms, music concerts, and even the stadium noise at a sporting event.

The truth is, any loud noises which are received by the ears over an extended period of time, no matter where they came from, can cause significant damage to the inner ear. Eventually this can lead to dizziness, ringing in the ears, some degree of hearing loss, and even issues unrelated to hearing, such as high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.

What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss is the condition which results from having an excess of sound energy reaching the inner ear. When the excess sound energy is temporary, any hearing loss is also likely to be temporary and reversible. A good example of this would be attending a loud rock concert where sound undergoes a great deal of amplification, and excess sound energy reaches every person in attendance, regardless of where they’re sitting.

It is fairly typical for someone attending a concert like this to completely recover within the next day or two, because the excess sound energy has dissipated. If that noise were to persist over a longer period of time, however, it is quite likely that the damage to the inner ear would be irreversible, and the listener would be subjected to a permanent loss of hearing.

It is also possible for excess sound energy to be so profound as to rupture a person’s eardrums, rendering them more or less deaf. Still more problems can be created if a person’s eardrums are shattered and he or she also develops severe dizziness, which is usually an sign that there is a perilymphatic fistula, i.e. an inner ear hole, created between the middle ear space and the inner ear fluid. Surgery in such cases may eliminate the dizziness, but the hearing loss is likely to remain permanent.

Pair of ear plugs used to guard against noise-induced hearing loss

Ear plugs can aid against noise-induced hearing loss.

Prevention of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Two of the best kinds of protection for the inner ear are the simple devices we know as earplugs and earmuffs. Earplugs are small-sized devices made of various materials, which can easily fit into the outer ear canal to block sound reception. Since they come in many different shapes and sizes, earplugs can be fitted to virtually anyone’s ears, and the fit is very important because there must be an airtight seal in the ear canal to block excess sound energy from reaching the inner ear.

Earmuffs on the other hand, are devices fitted to the head, and they cover the entire outer ear to prevent sound energy from reaching the ear canal. These devices usually have an adjustable band which allows for a tight fit, and as in the case of earplugs, a tight fit is very important so as to make a good seal against excess sound energy.

The choice of which of these devices to use for any given situation is contingent upon which kinds of sounds need to be blocked. Earplugs are much more effective in providing protection from noises in the low frequency spectrum, whereas earmuffs offer better protection against noises on the high end of the spectrum. Either one will reduce the sound energy that reaches the inner ear by between 15 and 30 dB of sound, and when the two devices are used in tandem, a person wearing them can expect to have twice as much protection than by using either one alone.

Treatment for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Anyone who suspects that they may have sustained noise-induced hearing loss should seek professional advice from a doctor who has been trained in ear and hearing disorders. This kind of doctor will be able to diagnose the specific condition affecting a person’s hearing, and can recommend the most effective kind of treatment program.

Unfortunately, there is no real cure for noise-induced hearing loss, because damage to the inner ear is irreversible. There are various devices available which can help restore hearing if only one ear has been affected, and there are also amplification systems such as hearing aids, which can be used in certain situations.

There’s also a great deal of very promising research being conducted by such organizations as the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. One of the specific areas being researched now is how using antioxidants may be able to prevent hearing loss due to noise-induced causes, and may actually be able to restore relatively normal hearing.

Early results have already demonstrated that vitamin D and aspirin can reduce the effects of hearing loss when they are used prior to the event which produces excess sound energy. Other research conducted on laboratory animals has shown that exposure to loud noises does not result in hearing loss when the animals are provided with vitamins A, C, and E before being exposed to a loud noise.