Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)
What is noise-induced hearing loss?
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.
Who is at risk for noise-induced hearing loss?
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:
- Oil or gas extraction.
How common is noise-induced hearing loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss is common. According to research studies, NIHL affects approximately:
- 5.2 million children and teens between ages 6 to 19.
- 26 million adults between the ages of 20 and 69.
What part of the ear is damaged in noise-induced hearing loss?
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.
Symptoms and Causes
How do you know if you have noise-induced hearing loss?
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:
- Inability to hear high-pitched sounds, like birds singing.
- Muffled or distorted speech.
- Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear).
- A feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear.
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.
What causes noise-induced hearing loss?
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.
How long does it take noise-induced hearing loss to occur?
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.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is noise-induced hearing loss diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will run auditory tests to determine if you have hearing loss. They’ll also ask about your symptoms.
Management and Treatment
How is noise-induced hearing loss treated?
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.
Can noise-induced hearing loss be cured?
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.
Can I prevent noise-induced hearing loss?
Yes. Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented by following these guidelines:
- Understand what types of noises can be harmful to your hearing.
- Wear earplugs or earmuffs when participating in loud activities.
- Avoid playing music at loud volumes.
- If you’re unable to protect yourself from loud noise, move as far away from it as you can.
- Help young children protect their ears until they are old enough to do it themselves.
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.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have noise-induced hearing loss?
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.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there other harmful effects regarding noise pollution?
Yes. Hearing loss can severely impact your quality of life. In addition to damaging your hearing, harmful noise has been linked to:
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- Increased heart rate.
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.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy