Noise-induced Hearing Loss

Hearing loss caused by prolonged or repeated exposure to excessive noise or by brief exposure to intensely loud noise

  • A noisy workplace and using a portable music player are risk factors
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

Persistent or repeated exposure to loud noise or a single intensely loud sound can damage the delicate sensory hair cells that line the receptor for hearing within the inner ear. Temporary or permanent hearing loss may result.

Different individuals have different tolerances to noise and so it is impossible to establish absolute safe limits of noise exposure that apply to everybody. Furthermore, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss also depends on the length of time of exposure. However, in general, exposure to a sudden, extremely loud sound (above about 130 decibels) – an explosion, for example – can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss and may also lead to a ruptured eardrum. More commonly, noise-induced hearing loss results from prolonged and/or repeated exposure to lower levels of noise (between about 85 and 130 decibels).

A few simple steps, such as using earplugs, can reduce your risk of noiseinduced hearing loss (see Protecting your hearing).

Noise levels and damage to hearing

The intensity of sound is measured in decibels (dB). A 10 dB increase doubles the loudness, so that 90 dB sounds twice as loud as 80 dB. Repeated and/or prolonged exposure to noise of about 85–130 dB may lead to hearing loss. Sounds louder than 130 dB can cause immediate hearing damage.

What are the symptoms?

Exposure to very loud noises can cause immediate symptoms. These usually affect both ears and may include:

  • Loss of hearing, particularly of high-pitched sounds.

  • Ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears (see Tinnitus).

  • Pain in the ears following intensely loud noises.

Immediate symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss are almost always temporary, and hearing returns to normal after a few hours or days. However, permanent hearing loss may occur as a result of either a single, loud noise or repeated or prolonged exposure to excessive noise.

If your symptoms persist, or if you work in a noisy environment or regularly listen to loud music and notice a change in your hearing, you should consult your doctor.

What might be done?

Your doctor may perform hearing tests and may arrange for further tests to assess the pattern of any hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss cannot be cured, although using a hearing aid may make understanding conversation and communication easier.

Self-help: Protecting your Hearing

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

Back to top