Having an in-depth understanding of how loud sounds affect the cells and nerves in your ear and making a solid plan to protect yourself is key. This information can help you avoid noise-induced hearing loss and preserve your ability to enjoy life through the gift of sound.
How Sound Impacts Nerves and Hair Cells in the Ear
Your ears have three parts: the outer, middle, and inner ear. The outer ear spans from the visible part of your ear to the tympanic membrane (eardrum) at the end of your ear canal.
The middle ear begins beyond the eardrum and consists of the eustachian tubes, which regulate air pressure, and three tiny bones that transfer sound from the outer to the inner ear.
The inner ear contains the semicircular canals responsible for maintaining your balance. It also houses the cochlea, a small spiral structure lined with tiny hairs. These hairs — which are actually nerve endings — are where the magic of hearing happens.
When sound waves reach your inner ear, the hair cells in your cochlea vibrate, turning those sound waves into electrical signals. The nerves carry those electrical signals to the brain, which further translates those signals into recognizable sounds. Loud sounds can damage cochlear hair cells and the auditory neural system, resulting in hearing loss.
Temporary vs. Permanent Hearing Loss
Damage to any part of the ear can cause hearing loss. Temporary hearing loss may occur due to short-term exposure to loud noises (for example, at a concert), an upper respiratory infection, excessive earwax buildup, strenuous exercise, or extreme stress.
These events can muffle sounds or bend the cochlear hair cells. However, the cells will usually become straight again once they recover from the exposure.
However, prolonged exposure to loud noises and certain health conditions and treatments can cause permanent hearing loss and the need for OTC hearing aids. Irreversible hearing loss occurs when the hair cells or the auditory neural system suffer too much damage and cannot recover.
Repeated Exposure to Loud Sounds
Loud noises can damage the auditory nerve that carries the electrical signals to your brain, resulting in hidden hearing loss that may worsen over time. Loud noises also overwork the hair cells, leading to gradual damage.
As hair cells are repeatedly damaged, they will eventually die off. The fewer hair cells you have available to receive sound waves and transmit electrical signals, the more difficult it will be to understand sounds, even in quieter spaces. This is how gradual hearing loss occurs.
Protecting Yourself from Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
It’s important to know that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a preventable condition. Consider the following tips to reduce your exposure to loud sounds and mitigate your risk of developing NIHL:
- Take time to educate your family on the dangers of loud noise exposure
- Make a plan to reduce exposure to loud sounds, including lawn mowers, power tools, and firearms
- Turn down the volume of your music, especially when listening through earphones
- If possible, leave any space where loud noises are occurring
- Use headphones or other hearing protection solutions if you cannot move away
Hearing loss doesn’t have to become your fate when you take a proactive approach to preventing it.
Treat Hearing Loss with Support from Arcade Hearing Aid Center
Your ability to hear is worth protecting. Whether you’re already experiencing hearing issues or want to hold on to this vital sense, you must take steps to guard your hearing. Speaking with an audiologist is a good move if you're unsure where to start. A skilled hearing specialist can recommend behavioral changes and programmable hearing aids for those who need them.
Contact the professionals at Arcade Hearing Aid Center in Santa Monica, CA, today to learn more about how you can preserve and improve your hearing.