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Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Overview

Hearing loss caused by noise can occur in people of any age. Whether a noise is harmful depends on how loud it is and how long you're around it.

Noise can affect hearing in several ways.

  • On-the-job (occupational) noise is one of the most common sources of harmful noise. Construction and factory workers, or those in the military, might have this type of hearing loss.
  • A sudden, extremely loud sound can cause immediate, severe, and often permanent hearing loss. This type of injury often requires medical attention right away.
  • Loud sounds (like a rock concert) can cause a temporary ringing and hearing loss.
  • Repeated, frequent exposure to loud or moderately loud sounds over a long period of time (often years) can cause permanent hearing loss. These sounds include high-volume music and the noise of power tools, lawn mowers, household appliances, and vehicles.

How does noise-induced hearing loss develop?

To be heard, sound energy has to be strong enough to bend tiny hair cells in the cochlea, a part of the inner ear. The force of loud noise can damage these hair cells. A small amount of damage may have no effect on hearing. But with repeated exposure to noise, more of the hair cells are damaged, causing hearing loss.

Noise-induced hearing loss usually affects both ears. But one ear may be affected more than the other if you've had repeated, long-term exposure to a loud sound that always comes from the same direction. An example is gunfire that's always near the same ear.

Credits

Current as of: December 2, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Charles M. Myer III MD - Otolaryngology

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