Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is caused by exposure to harmful, loud noise. This condition can affect people of all ages, and it may be temporary or permanent. You can take steps to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, such as wearing ear protection when necessary.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when structures in the inner ear become damaged due to loud noises. Most of the time, the sounds in our everyday environment — like TV, traffic and ambient conversations — are at a safe level. There are times, however, when sounds become too loud or last for too long. This can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Unlike other types of hearing loss, NIHL is preventable.
People of all ages can develop noise-induced hearing loss. Individuals who attend loud concerts or listen to music through headphones at high volumes are more susceptible to NIHL. Those who have jobs in noisy environments are also particularly vulnerable. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), jobs and industries with the highest risk of noise-induced hearing loss include:
Noise-induced hearing loss is common. According to research studies, NIHL affects approximately:
Loud noises primarily affect the cochlea, an organ within the inner ear. When you’re exposed to loud noises, cells and membranes in the cochlea can become damaged.
There are a few things that could mean you're losing your hearing. Depending on the cause of your NIHL, symptoms may be immediate or you may develop them over time. Some of the most common noise-inducing hearing loss symptoms include:
Noise-induced hearing loss symptoms may last minutes, hours or days after noise exposure ends. But even if your hearing returns to normal, cells in the inner ear may still be destroyed. If enough healthy cells are left, your hearing will eventually come back. But as more cells are destroyed over time, hearing loss can become permanent.
NIHL occurs when the hair cells in your inner ear die. Once these hair cells are destroyed, they cannot grow back.
Noise-induced hearing loss may be caused by a single event, such as a loud explosion or gunshot. This type of NIHL can be immediate and permanent. In other instances, NIHL may be caused by exposure to loud noises over time. When this happens, you may go for weeks, months or even years before noticing symptoms, as they often occur gradually over time.
It depends. In some cases, a single exposure to loud noise can cause immediate hearing loss. In other cases, symptoms may accumulate over several years. Research suggests that significant noise-induced hearing loss usually develops after 10 or more years of exposure.
Your healthcare provider will run auditory tests to determine if you have hearing loss. They’ll also ask about your symptoms.
In most cases, noise-induced hearing loss is treated with hearing aids. However, if hearing loss worsens over time, hearing aids may not provide enough benefit and your provider may recommend other options such as cochlear implants.
While NIHL can’t be cured, there are treatments that can help improve your hearing. If you think you have noise-induced hearing loss, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Yes. Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented by following these guidelines:
A research study in Austria found that it’s possible to determine your susceptibility to NIHL by measuring temporary hearing loss — also known as temporary threshold shift (TTS). This test can tell you how quickly the cells in your inner ear recover after noise exposure, which can be beneficial for preventing NIHL.
If you’ve been diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss, start protecting your ears now. While you can’t reverse damage that has already been done, you can reduce your risk for future damage.
If you notice any changes in your hearing, you should schedule a consultation with your healthcare provider. This is especially true if you experience sudden or rapidly progressing hearing loss.
Yes. Hearing loss can severely impact your quality of life. In addition to damaging your hearing, harmful noise has been linked to:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Noise-induced hearing loss can have a significant negative impact on your quality of life. You may have difficulty following conversation or communicating with friends and family. This can ultimately lead to an avoidance of social situations. Fortunately, noise-induced hearing loss can often be successfully managed with hearing aids or implants.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/15/2021.
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