Struggling with hearing? Request a hearing test appointment today.
Can Ears Recover from Damaging Loud Noises?
We’re surrounded by sound, and not all of it is good. Sometimes ears can recover from loud noises, but in other cases, there’s no fix. We examine what to look out for so that you can protect your hearing.
Of all the many hazards in our homes and outside, we rarely give a thought to those that can damage our ears and hearing. Perhaps, if you were somehow using a jackhammer to break up a pavement, you’d take precautions — like wearing ear protection — but for the most part, we’re not all that bothered about loud noise — until it’s too late.
Take rock and other concerts, indoors and out: people flock to them because they want to hear their favourite music and tunes blasted out as high as possible, and to such a level that you can feel the sound vibrations bouncing off your body. It’s a thrilling experience but one that may have lasting, negative effects.
Because in such a setting, in the open part that’s your ears, the sound waves are entering and may be causing damage to the delicate internal structures. This could result in short-term hearing problems or, if regularly exposed to loud noise, it may become irreparable and, therefore, permanent.
So can ears recover from loud noises, generally? In this post, we’re going to draw on our many years of experience as hearing loss specialists and examine the connection between noise and hearing issues, what kind of noises can be problematic and should be avoided, and if your ears can recover after exposure to loud noise.
How Does Noise Cause Hearing Loss?
To understand how loud noise can cause hearing loss, we must first look at what noise is. Everything you hear is a form of energy transmitted through the air by sound waves; this explains why you wouldn’t be able to hear if you, for some reason, found yourself floating about in space, where there’s no medium — air — to carry sound waves. This differs from, say, radio waves, which are another kind of wave (electromagnetic), and therefore, don’t need air or anything else to move through.
One of the most delicate parts of the ear are the tiny hairs lining the middle ear. There are around 15 thousand of these structures, and they play a fundamental part in the hearing process. When sound waves enter the ear canal, the hair cells bend in response to the level of sound they encounter, passing the waves further down into the ear.
But if the sound is too high because there’s too much energy, the hair cells will bend over and stay in the position, meaning they won’t be doing their job and you won’t hear as well. This is something many people have experienced after attending loud football matches, for example, some sounds can be muffled for hours or even days afterwards.
Recovery after Exposure to Loud Noise
In most cases, the hair cells eventually recover and revert to their original, upright position, and then your hearing is fully restored. But if they frequently encounter loud noise or if it’s particularly loud on any one occasion, the hair cells might die, and they don’t regenerate or grow back — resulting in permanent hearing loss.
The eardrum is also affected by noise that’s too loud. Its function is to vibrate when sound waves hit it to send sounds further into the ear for processing. As many people know, loud noise can tear or perforate the eardrum, and so, you don’t hear properly for a while.
As with damaged hair cells, the good news is that the eardrum is capable of repairing itself when it’s torn and is usually back to its old self in a few weeks — although in some cases, intervention in the form of a patch is required to assist in healing.
Loud noises can also damage nerves in the ear, causing symptoms in addition to hearing loss, like tinnitus, vertigo and numbness in the face. If the auditory nerve is damaged due to loud noise, it most likely will stay that way and it can’t be fixed. People suffering from auditory nerve damage will usually require hearing aids to recover some of their hearing ability.
Protecting Your Ears from Loud Noises
It’s hard, if not impossible, to avoid harmful noise in our busy — and loud — world. Just stepping outside your door can expose your ears to the deafening roar of road, rail and air traffic. As we’ve seen, sound is energy — and too much of it can be dangerous. Sound is measured in decibels (dB), and if you’re having a conversation with someone at a normal level — as in, not shouting or roaring at each other as if you were in a pub or club — the sounds you both emit would be around 60 dB (a nightclub can be close to 100 dB and a packed pub up to 80 dB).
If you’re mowing the lawn with a petrol lawnmower, your ears would receive around 90 dB of sound — and that jackhammer we mentioned at the outset? The common construction tool you often see at the roadside would deliver 130 dB to your delicate ears; it’s about the same noise level as an aircraft taking off (in-flight and in the cabin, the roar is around 105 dB). That’s about the same as a rock concert, while football matches average around 80-90 dB.
The bad news is that sounds over 120 dB can cause direct and immediate damage to your ears, and if you’re regularly exposed to levels around 70dB for long periods, the hearing structures of your ears may not be able to cope and will almost likely become damaged.
Hazardous Noise at Work and Elsewhere
Industrial settings with lots of heavy and other machinery that emit high levels of noise are another concern, but employers have a legal duty of care towards their staff and must provide adequate ear protection in such auditory-hazardous environments.
Clearly, no one is going to wear earplugs or other forms of ear protection at nightclubs, pubs or rock concerts, but if you find yourself regularly exposed to high levels of noise elsewhere, such as while travelling, it’s vital that you use something to block out some of the sound waves to give your ears a reprieve. Custom-made earplugs that are perfectly shaped to your ear, such as we provide, are an excellent form of protection.
In the long run, your ears will thank you, and you’ll have excellent hearing for many years to come.
If you’re suffering from temporary hearing loss that’s perhaps due to exposure to loud noise and would like to know what’s going on and get a hearing test to determine the level of damage, get a free consultation with the experts at Regain Hearing today.