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Marla Ahlgrimm: Turn Down the Volume to Prevent Hearing Loss

March 15, 2016

Marla AhlgrimmHearing loss attributed to age can’t be avoided, says Marla Ahlgrimm. However, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is 100% preventable. In this brief question and answer article, Ahlgrimm explains the difference and offers advice on ways to avoid NIHL.

Q: What is NIHL?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Noise-induced hearing loss is just that, hearing loss associated with exposure to noise above 85 decibels. To put that into perspective, a vacuum cleaner runs at approximately 75 decibels so anything louder than that can damage the inner ear.

Q: When are people exposed to prolonged noises?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Recreational activities are the biggest culprits. Live concerts, motorcycles, and firecrackers are all well above the 85 decibel threshold. Previously, NIHL was diagnosed most frequently among those whose jobs mandated noise exposure, such as those working in machine shops or in construction. Over the last fifty years, noise has been recognized as an occupational hazard and is highly regulated. NIHL is still prevalent among active and retired military personnel.

Q:  How quickly does damage occur?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Injury to the ear can happen within just a few minutes of listening to loud music, for example, though symptoms may not present for weeks or months. Signs of NIHL include distorted sounds, a need to increase the volume on the phone or television, tinnitus, and difficulty understanding speech from across the room, especially when other sounds are present.

Q: What is the difference between age-related hearing loss and that brought on by noise?

Marla Ahlgrimm: As we age, medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes can affect the inner ear. As well, certain medications are toxic to the ear’s sensory cells. Occasionally, deformities in the ear may cause hearing loss. Many older adults experience a combination of NIHL and age-related hearing loss. According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, hearing loss can be a serious concern and should be checked out by an ENT or audiologist regardless of cause.

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