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International Noise Awareness Day 2022: Understanding the dangers of loud music, sounds and hearing loss

By: Paul Harrison Updated: 27th April 2022 in: Hearing Loss Awareness, Latest News, Articles
International Noise Awareness Day 2022 - Understanding the dangers of loud music and hearing loss

International Noise Awareness Day 2022

Understanding the dangers of loud noise and hearing loss

 

International Noise Awareness Day 2022 27th April

How does loud noise cause hearing loss?  Loud noise is very harmful to the inner ear or cochlea.  It could be a one-off exposure to severe loud sound or listening to loud sounds for a long period of time - either way it can result in hearing loss.

Loud noise can damage your nerves, membranes, hair cells or other parts of your ear. This can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Learn more about how this happens, so that you can take action to prevent hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in your ears).

 

What happens to your hearing when you are exposed to loud music?

Have you ever experienced muffled hearing after being exposed to loud music, like a concert?  You might have been left with ringing in your ears and these are the first signs of hearing damage.  The reality is that the music or sound was too loud for your ears to cope with. 

Hearing loss is either temporary or permanent.  Permanent hearing loss is a result of too much damage to vital parts of your ear.  However, generally, the muffled sound and tinnitus symptoms are temporary and will clear up in a few days. 

This is possible because your hair cells mirror the shape of blades of grass and they bend more if the sound you hear is louder than normal.  Soon after they recover and straighten out again.  Although regular exposure to loud music can be detrimental to your hearing long-term.

 

How does loud noise cause hearing loss?

Your ears are extremely delicate and when sound vibrations reach your eardrum they make your eardrum vibrate.  Within your middle ear, there are three small bones and as your eardrum vibrates these three bones pick up and amplify the vibration and transmit it to your inner ear.

This is where your cochlea is, which contains fluid and thousands of microscopic hair cells.  In fact, on average, we have around 16,000 hair cells here.  These tiny hair cells are responsible for converting our sounds.  The vibration ripples the fluid in the cochlea and this instigates the movement of your hair cells. 

This, in turn, creates electrical signals which are sent to your auditory nerve and then your brain.  Finally, your brain turns these signals into sounds that you recognise and hear, so you can enjoy sound, speech and music.

Noise exposure generally damages the hair cells at the bottom of the cochlea that can cause high frequency hearing loss, which ultimately has a huge impact on our ability to understand conversations.

 

 Loud noise and hearing loss

International Noise Awareness Day 2022

How loud is too loud?

 

Loud music effects on hearing loss - How can loud noise cause hearing loss? 

If the sounds you hear are louder, the vibrations increase, which makes the fluid move more quickly.  If the hair cells move too fast they can break or bend.  These hair cells cannot repair themselves or grow back.  This means that if they are damaged due to exposure to loud sounds they cannot transmit sound properly.

It is important to remember that it isn't just the hair cells that are at risk from loud music exposure.  A sporadic sound like heavy drumming can create strong vibrations in the ear that can perforate your eardrum.  There is a chance that the perforation will heal by itself, but will not work as successfully as it did before the damage.

In some cases, the bones in the middle ear can start to shake so violently they can crack or even break.  When this happens, the damage is irreversible and will cause hearing loss.  In addition, and just like damaged hair cells, exposure to loud noise can also damage your auditory nerve.  This nerve transmits important information to your brain.  

 

Loud music hearing loss statistics and perspectives:

  • MP3 volume limit 90dB
  • Concerts can reach 100dB
  • Nightclubs can reach 95dB
  • Sounds over 85 decibels can damage your hearing
  • 17% of adults suffer from hearing loss due to excessive exposure to noise

 

You can roughly have between 30-50% of hair cell damage before it alters your hearing

It will happen slowly, and over time, more and more hair cells will become damaged.  Generally, this process is so gradual that you will not realise it at first, but the more you listen to loud music for a long period of time - the quicker it will cause hearing loss.

We understand that in some listening situations, you may need to turn up the volume of your favourite TV shows, but it is important to remember that as we get older naturally our hair cells die off.  This results in many people needing hearing aids as they get older. 

To put hair cell damage into perspective, if you have few good hair cells left to begin with, the reduction in your hearing will deteriorate quicker.  

 

 How to listen to music safely

International Noise Awareness Day 2022

Listening to Music Safely

 

Listening to loud music and hearing loss preventatives

How can you reduce the risk of induced hearing loss?  One of the main preventative for events such as festivals and live concerts is wearing earplugs or ear defenders when you are near a stage and, therefore, close to speakers.  By doing this, you are reducing the loud sounds going into your ear, making it quieter and safer.  Try and stay away from speakers if you can.

Also, if you take regular breaks, where you are away from the stage, it gives your ears a much-needed rest from the exposure to loud noises.  Five minutes every hour is advised and there are now chill-out areas at most gigs and live events for this purpose.

 

Loud music and headphones hearing loss preventatives

When you are listening to music through your headphones, avoid listening at maximum volume.  If people can hear the music, then the volume is too loud.  For example, if someone is standing around two feet away from you and can still hear the music - you are at serious risk of hearing damage.

A lot of people turn up the volume of their speakers because they can still hear background noise or outside noise.  Invest in noise cancelling headphones so you can enjoy your music at a safe volume whilst the distraction of background noise.

Most phones and listening devices have safe volumes levels, so if the music or podcast is too loud the volume display turns red.  Don't go over this red threshold - it is there to keep you safe and protect your hearing.

 

Need more information and support?

Prolonged exposure to loud sound can have a huge impact on your hearing health and well-being.  If you are experiencing muffles hearing for a prolonged duration, you must see a professional - either your GP or local audiologist

They will check your ability to hear and whether you are suffering from any hearing loss or permanent hearing damage using a hearing test audiogram.  If needed, they will advise on the right treatment going forward.

If you are looking for some support regarding hearing loss, hearing aids or you are searching for a local audiologist and a hearing test - please call us free on 0800 567 7621 to speak with one of our experts.

 

 

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This article was written by audiology expert Paul Harrison

Meet Paul Harrison, Audiology Expert & Founder of Hearing Aid UK

Managing Director & founder of Hearing Aid UK, with over 20 years of audiology experience and a member of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists Council (BSHAA) between 2015-2020.

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