Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)
What is noise-induced hearing loss /NIHL?
A noise-induced hearing loss is a permanent hearing loss caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of noise. The hearing deteriorates gradually from the noise exposure.
A noise-induced hearing loss is also called NIHL.
Excessive noise exposure is one of the most common causes of hearing loss.
When you have a noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), the hair cells in your inner ear have been damaged by the exposure to noise. The hair cells’ ability to pick-up and transmit sound to the brain is therefore reduced. A noise-induced hearing loss is therefore a type of sensorineural hearing loss.
Apart from a sensorineural hearing loss, there are other categories of hearing loss. Read more about the types of hearing loss. Or read our guide to hearing loss.
Symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss
A noise-induced hearing loss can in some cases occur suddenly (a sudden hearing loss) after exposure to very loud noise such as an explosion or other loud noises. In these cases, you often very clearly notice that you have lost some of your hearing. If you experience a sudden hearing loss you should contact a doctor or an ENT as soon as possible.
In most cases, a noise-induced hearing loss develops gradually as a result of long-lasting exposure to noise. This can be work-noise or noise from leisure activities. When a noise-induced hearing loss develops gradually, it is harder to perceive. The noise induced hearing loss symptoms and signs, like many other types of hearing loss, are for example:
- Trouble hearing what other people are saying, like people are mumbling,
- Problems hearing children and women’s voices
- Problems hearing at meetings and social gatherings
- Problems hearing in noisy surroundings, like in a restaurant
If people are saying that your TV is turned up to loud or say that you speak too loudly, this can also be a sign of a noise-induced hearing loss.
A noise-induced hearing loss is often accompanied by tinnitus – a ringing, whooshing, roaring or buzzing sounds in your ears, also more commonly known as ringing ears.
Some with a noise-induced hearing loss may also experience pain in their ears when exposed to noise.
What causes noise-induced hearing loss/NIHL?
Noise induced hearing loss is caused by exposure to excessively loud noise for longer periods e.g. in the workplace or listening to loud music at concerts or on your smart phone or it may be caused by acute, high intensity noise such as gunshots, air horns or fireworks.
A noise-induced hearing loss usually affects both ears. In some rare cases, it can also occur in one ear only – this is called a unilateral hearing loss. This can occur if you experience a sudden very loud sound close one of your ears.
Who can get noise-induced hearing loss?
We can all get a noise-induced hearing loss. If we exposure ourselves to prolonged loud sounds and noises for longer periods or experience a sudden very loud sound such as an explosion, we are at risk of getting a noise-induced hearing loss.
People who have a noisy job are particularly at risk, especially if they work in noise for a longer period of time and do not use hearing protection.
Concert goers and musicians are also at high risk. They must also remember to wear earplugs or other types of hearing protection.
Military personnel are at risk of a noise-induced hearing loss due to the explosions from grenades and other loud noises, e.g., from heavy vehicles.
Finally, people who use noisy tools in their leisure time and do not use hearing protection are also at risk.
Prevention of noise-induced hearing loss
Can I avoid a noise-induced hearing loss? You can prevent a noise induced hearing loss/NIHL by turning down the volume, reducing the time you are exposed to the loud noise and/or using hearing protection.
Cure for noise-induced hearing loss
Many ask: Can hearing damage and noise induced hearing loss be reversed or is there a cure for noise-induced hearing loss? Unfortunately not. Once the hair cells in the inner ear have been damaged by noise exposure, they have suffered permanent damage and cannot be restored. But noise-induced hearing loss can be treated.
How do you treat noise-induced hearing loss?
This type of hearing loss cannot be reversed or cured. When the hearing loss is there it is a permanent hearing loss, also called a permanent threshold shift.
A noise-induced hearing loss is most often treated with the use of hearing aids or with hearing implants such as cochlear implants if the hearing loss is very severe.
What are the consequences of noise-induced hearing loss?
Just like any other type of hearing loss, NIHL can have negative effects on a person’s quality of life. People with a Noise-induced hearing loss often have problems following conversations in groups or noisy places and may experience problems communicating with friends, family or colleagues in the workplace. This may lead to avoiding social gatherings and even the loss of social contacts.
What should I do if I think I have a noise-induced hearing loss?
If you think you have a Noise-induced hearing loss, you should contact a hearing professional and have your hearing checked.