Symptoms, causes and treatment of noise-induced hearing loss


If someone told you to lower your music or you would lose your hearing, they were right.

Noise-induced hearing loss affects approximately 17 percent adults and results from repeated or excessive exposure to loud noises. It’s not so much a question of the strength of the sound seems, but with what force the sound waves penetrate the structure of your ear.

Here’s how noise-induced hearing loss occurs, how (and if) it can be treated, and how to prevent it from happening.

Noise-induced hearing loss is a condition that is usually explained by the name itself.

If you (or those around you) have noticed that you are less sensitive to sound, especially during normal conversation, you may have some degree of hearing loss.

Sometimes hearing loss is temporary and reversible without treatment. For example, hearing a loud concert or fireworks once may affect you temporarily. But if you continue to be exposed to concerts or loud fireworks, you can have lasting hearing loss.

Besides decreased sensitivity to sound, noise-induced hearing loss can cause symptoms such as:

Noise-induced hearing loss can occur over time or all at once. It is not the sensation or perception of sound that is detrimental, it is the force of sound waves on the delicate structures of your ear.

When sound waves enter the ear, they can do so with a force strong enough to to cut the tiny hairs and other cells that line the ear. These hairs move as sound waves pass them, transmitting signals to the brain so that these waves can be interpreted into messages you can understand.

When these tiny hairs are damaged, your ability to transfer sound waves to the brain is diminished.

Once these hairs and the structures of the inner ear are damaged, they cannot regenerate or be repaired.

Noise-induced hearing loss in babies and toddlers

According to World Health Organization, about 60% of hearing loss in children is preventable, but hearing loud sounds is usually not the cause.

Hearing loss in young children is usually caused by:

  • congenital causes (something you were born with)
  • a virus
  • middle ear fluid
  • wax buildup

Middle ear fluid and wax buildup are reversible.

Although hearing loss from noise is not a typical cause, some sounds (like fireworks) can be more uncomfortable or painful for their ears, compared to older children and adults. This is because babies have particularly narrow ear canals.

Others at risk for noise-induced hearing loss

Some people have a higher risk of developing hearing loss.

This includes those who are exposed to loud sounds regularly or repeatedly, such as:

  • concerts
  • job
  • any place the music is played loud

Hearing loss can affect your health in several ways. Safety is a big concern. As hearing decreases, your ability to hear conversations may deteriorate, but your sensitivity to louder sounds like warning signals or sirens will also deteriorate.

Besides these more obvious complications, hearing loss can lead to problems such as:

Hearing loss is initially diagnosed with an assessment of your personal and family history, as well as a physical exam.

A doctor will look for any structural problems or earwax buildup in your ear that may be contributing to the problem. You may be referred to an ENT (otolaryngologist).

There are several types of hearing tests that can follow, and a doctor will use an audiogram – or a chart of your results – to determine the type and extent of hearing loss you may have.

Noise-induced hearing loss is generally characterized by:

  • difficulty detecting high frequency sounds
  • a history of exposure to hazardous noise
  • a noticeable stopping point when high-pitched sounds are detected (audiometric notch)

There are several tools that can help you if you suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.

Hearing aids

There are many types of hearing aids, including those that go behind the ear or in the ear. Some amplify sounds, while others amplify sounds and decrease background noise at the same time.

Cochlear implants

Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that directly stimulate the hearing nerve when your natural cochlea has been damaged. They are generally only used for those who have significant hearing loss in the high frequencies.


A variety of therapies are available to help you learn to live with hearing loss. Some techniques include learning to lip-read or moving conversations to a quieter place.

Sound amplifiers

Beyond hearing aids, there are a number of devices that can amplify sounds and make them easier to hear. This includes devices that can increase the sound from your television or phone.

Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. Be careful when exposing yourself to loud noises.

If you work in a job where you cannot avoid being exposed to loud noises, you can take precautions to protect your hearing. Some options include:

  • move away from loud sounds
  • lower speaker volume
  • wearing protective earmuffs or ear plugs
  • get regular hearing tests if you are in a high-risk group

The first step in living with hearing loss is to recognize it and accept it.

Early intervention can help prevent further damage. Not treating hearing problems can lead to bigger problems.

Talk to a healthcare professional about ways to treat your hearing loss, as well as referrals to local support groups or community organizations. You can also find help from groups like the Hearing Loss Association of America.

Noise-induced hearing loss results from repeated loud noises that damage the delicate structures of your ear.

You can prevent this type of hearing loss by reducing your exposure to loud noise and wearing hearing protection when you can’t.


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