What’s the definition of hearing loss?

Hearing loss is defined as an inability to hear as well as the average person. That threshold is usually set at about 20 dB or better in both ears, but it’s important to remember that hearing loss can happen in just one ear or be significantly worse in one ear than the other. 

Millions of Americans have some level of hearing loss (48 million, in fact), but no two people will experience hearing loss the same way, making each case of hearing loss unique and deeply personal. The big reason for this is that there are actually a few different kinds of hearing loss, each caused by different things and can impact a person in different ways. 

One of the most common forms of hearing loss, however, is noise-induced hearing loss (often abbreviated NIHL, which is a type of sensorineural hearing loss. 

With how common it is, it’s important to know what it is, what causes it, and how you can prevent it.

What is noise-induced hearing loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss is hearing loss caused by consistent or repeated exposure to excessively loud sounds. Usually, sounds over 70 dB can cause this hearing loss after some time, and sounds over 120 dB can cause immediate damage with very little time. To put that in perspective, a normal conversation is usually 60-70 dB and concerts can get as loud as 110 dB.

NIHL, a type of sensorineural hearing loss, happens when loud sounds damage the delicate inner ear and, more specifically, the hearing nerves that live there. NIHL is irreversible and must be diagnosed by a hearing care specialist.

How does noise-induced hearing loss differ from other types of hearing loss?

While the end result of hearing loss is the same across the various types – an inability to hear as well as the average person – NIHL’s big difference is that it is caused by exposure to loud noise, while other types vary in cause widely.

For example, conductive hearing loss is caused by something physically blocking the passage to the inner ear, where your hearing nerves and eardrum process noise into sound in our brains. A buildup of fluid or ear wax and even an ear infection can cause conductive hearing loss, but it is much easier to treat than NIHL. 

While NIHL is a type of sensorineural hearing loss, it differs in cause from other cases of this type of hearing loss, too. For example, sensorineural hearing loss can also be caused by genetics, old age, illness, or even certain drugs that are toxic to hearing.

Causes of noise-induced hearing loss

NIHL can happen from any sudden or prolonged exposure to loud noise, no matter the source. But, there are a few specific scenarios that are common reasons for NIHL, including:

  • Attending a concert or busy sporting event
  • Riding motorcycles or being around motorcycles
  • Working around sirens, like police officers and firefighters
  • Celebrating holidays with fireworks or firecrackers
  • Using power tools or lawn equipment, like chainsaws or leaf blowers

Because of these common causes, those who work in construction or in factories are at higher risk of developing NIHL, especially if they are not consistently wearing hearing protection over their career.

How to protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss

Luckily, NIHL can be prevented and the risk of developing it can be decreased by wearing ear protection in loud places, avoiding exposure to sudden loud sounds, like fireworks, and turning down the volume of speakers in the car or through your headphones.

Hearing loss, including NIHL, can cause significant harm to a person beyond just their ability to hear. Without hearing, it may be harder to socialize and interact with others, and hearing loss can also increase the risk of other disorders, like dementia or depression.

Think you may have noise-induced hearing loss or just ready to take care of your hearing in general? Schedule a free hearing test and consultation with one of our hearing care professionals at Beltone Tristate today!