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Prolonged or repeated exposure to very loud noise can damage the hair cells of the inner ear, which transmit sound to the brain. The result is hearing loss.
Depending on how loud the noise is, and how long a person is exposed to the loud noise, noise-induced hearing loss may develop quickly or gradually. Hearing loss may be severe or relatively minor. Once hearing is lost, it cannot be recovered, although hearing aids may help.
Potentially, any noise that is over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. To give you some sense of how loud that is, normal conversation is generally about 60 decibels.
Even lawn mowers and kitchen blenders can exceed 85 decibels, but they are not so dangerous to your hearing unless you are exposed to their noise for hours at a time. Motorcycles roar at about 95 decibels, so riding a motorcycle regularly can damage hearing over time. Similarly, using power tools often can eventually cause hearing loss. It is a good idea to wear earmuffs while using the lawn mower or other power equipment around the house.
Many rock concerts are so loud that they pose a long-term threat to hearing after only 30 minutes. Very loud noises, such as gunshots or explosions, can cause hearing damage after only a few exposures.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect people of all ages. Though it cannot be cured, it can be prevented.
Noise-induced hearing loss may go unnoticed at first. Initial symptoms may include:
After being exposed to loud noise, such as during a rock concert, a person might experience temporary symptoms such as ringing in the ears, a feeling of stuffiness in the ears, and a noticeable reduction of hearing ability. Though these symptoms may fade in a matter of hours or days, normal hearing may not return entirely, because hair cells in the inner ear may have been damaged. If enough healthy cells remain, hearing may return to normal, but repeated exposures to loud noise will destroy more cells and eventually cause permanent damage.
Prolonged or repeated exposure to any noises louder than 85 decibels can cause noise-induced hearing loss. The louder the noise, the less exposure required before hearing damage occurs. The sound of a gunshot is generally 140 to 170 decibels. Rock concerts are often 120 decibels or louder. Therefore, hunting, target practice, and going to rock concerts are risky activities. Machines and devices that typically emit sounds in the 90 to 110 decibel range include:
Continual use of any of these common tools, vehicles, and devices poses a risk to hearing over time. As a general rule, any noise that hurts your ears should be considered a risk. As much as you can, you should limit your exposure to such noise.
If you work in an environment where you need to shout in order to be heard by the person next to you, then the noise level at your job may pose a long-term threat to your hearing. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established standards that require employers to provide workers with hearing protection, such as earmuffs, if noise levels are above certain decibel levels for certain specified periods of time.
Both the decibel level of noise and the length of time you are exposed to the noise are important factors. Being exposed to 85 decibels for an 8-hour period can be harmful. If noise is louder than that, the danger threshold occurs more quickly. For example, it is estimated that more than 2 continuous hours of exposure to 100 decibels may cause hearing loss.
When a person has symptoms of hearing loss, such as difficulty understanding what people say, he or she can get a hearing test from an audiologist.
A portion of the hearing test is known as an audiogram. An audiogram can measure what frequencies a person is able to hear and assess the extent (if any) of noise-induced hearing loss.
The following habits can help prevent noise-induced hearing loss:
If you have been exposed to loud noises on a regular basis, or if you suspect you may have hearing loss, it can be helpful to have your hearing checked by an audiologist.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss. Hearing aids can help with communication, but they do not cure hearing loss.
If you are having symptoms that concern you, your first contact will typically be with your personal physician, who will evaluate your health and symptoms.
If a hearing test is needed, your personal physician will facilitate the process of scheduling an appointment with the audiology department. During your office visit, we will discuss your symptoms and history. I will perform a hearing test explain the findings, and answer any questions you may have. We will discuss treatment options, and together we will create a treatment plan that is right for you.
If you need to talk with me after your visit or procedure, please call my office. You can also e-mail me with nonurgent issues from this website whenever it is convenient for you.
If you have urgent concerns or issues while my office is closed, or need general medical advice, you can call the Appointment and Advice line, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You will be connected with a nurse who can give you immediate advice.
If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.
Having all of our Kaiser Permanente departments located together or nearby, including pharmacy, laboratory, radiology and health education, makes getting your care easier for you.
Another major benefit is our comprehensive electronic medical record system which allows all of the doctors and clinicians involved in your care to stay connected on your health status and collaborate with each other as appropriate.
When every member of the health care team is aware of all aspects of your condition, care is safer and more effective.
If we decide together that your condition would also benefit from the care of other types of specialists, our staff will help arrange the appointment(s) with one or more of my specialty colleagues.
As your specialist, I have a goal to provide high-quality care and to offer you choices that make your health care convenient. I recommend that you become familiar with the many resources we offer so that you can choose the services that work best for you.
My Doctor Online is available at any time that is most convenient for you. From my home page you can:
If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder.
This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.