You might be losing your hearing – and you might not even know it. You only have to walk down your street to experience the busy soundscape. A soundscape your ears are accustomed to and – in short – is more harmful to your ear health than you would expect.
To put sound levels into perspective, we all generally speak at what is considered to be a normal level of 60 decibels. Car horns and ambulance sirens register at a sound of 85 decibels. Our London subway can reach 100 quite easily. We are experiencing all these intense levels of sound daily. Let’s not forget about the music we listen to on our smartphones, which pulsates around 100 decibels straight into our ears. This volume of music is safe for roughly ten minutes and after that, it can cause serious damage to our future hearing.
The noise we experience every day is becoming more and more of an issue and with serious implications to our general health noise pollution is now grabbing people’s attention. There is a steady increase in blood pressure levels, hypertension and stress levels – this is more significant in occupational noise – and along with these rising levels, the percentage of people who are diagnosed with tinnitus and hyperacusis is also on the same path.
Whilst the research into how noise damages our hearing continues, audiologists are coming to terms with and getting their heads around a recent trend and condition: hidden hearing loss. This basically means that your audiogram can relay completely normal results, but you could still be living with some level of hearing loss or damage.
The common audiograms of today won’t flag up this type of hearing loss, as you are still able to hear various frequencies and volumes. However, this doesn't mean that damage isn't there - it just isn't on the radar. The loss becomes apparent to you when you are struggling to hear and understand someone in a loud environment.
Hearing loss is usually the result of the hair cells of the inner ear withering away over a period of time. People with hidden hearing loss don’t have this problem and this is another reason why they can pass a hearing test. What is damaged is the connection. The synapses that transmit the electrical signals of the sound you hear from the hair cells to the nerve cells in the brain. It affects the quality of sound and how you understand it – especially speech in noise scenarios.
Those noisy sound levels we walk through constantly aren’t labelled as traumatic – but they are enough. Living in a world that just keeps getting noisier means that hearing loss will present itself in younger ages, whether it is hidden or otherwise.
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