If we’re not staring at the screens we carry around everywhere, we’re often listening to them, using headphones or earphones.
Then, there’s the noise we’re exposed to with trucks and traffic, loud household appliances like vacuum cleaners, TV, aeroplanes, lawn mowers or concerts. It can be hard to escape sometimes.
Do all these noises damage our ears and impact our hearing over time?
Short answer – yes. In fact, there’s a medical name for it. It’s called Noise Induced Hearing Loss or NIHL.1
Loud noise can damage hair cells, membranes, nerves, or other parts of your ear. The hair cells within the cochlea (a hollow spiral-shaped bone found in the inner ear3) allow your brain to detect sounds,2 so if they’re damaged, your ability to hear is impacted. We are born with about 16,000 hair cells in the ear, but up to 30%-50% of hair cells can be damaged or destroyed before a test will pick up hearing loss. So by the time you notice hearing loss, many hair cells may have been destroyed and can’t be repaired.2
Some hearing loss is temporary, such as immediately following a loud music concert, but with continued exposure, it might become permanent.
The risk of noise induced hearing loss depends on:4
So, if you continually listen to loud music, or operate noisy machinery (like a chainsaw), you need to take precautions.
When using earphones or headphones to listen to music, consider making use of the volume limiting feature on your smart phone. For example, on an iPhone, turn on Sound Check, so that all the music on your phone plays at the same volume, no matter how loud the sound file itself is – no loud, deafening surprises. Check your phone settings for a similar feature on Android devices (eg Media volume on Samsung).
If you find yourself in a situation where you are exposed to loud noise, it’s always advisable to use some ear protection. A Formula 1 car race is extremely loud. As is a leaf blower and even some kitchen blenders.4 And while it might seem odd to wear some earplugs at a music concert when you’re there to listen, if you’re close to speakers, it’s very loud.