When we meet a new patient, we look for risk factors. One of our questions involves past exposure to loud sounds. Most people are aware loudness damages hearing. Naturally, it is good for people to be cautious about what they expose their ears to. What causes the damage? How does the damage happen? Is it normal to have this damage? How can we tell a sound is too loud for safety?
When loud sounds enter the ear, the fluid vibrations that flow through the inner ear can cause the sensory cells to vibrate too violently. This can cause the cilia (hairlike projections) to separate from one another. When this happens, the cells cannot respond to soft sounds. The damage may heal within 48 hours. Repeated exposures, however, can cause permanent damage. Some sounds are loud enough to damage the ears in a single exposure.
Inner ear damage is common to industrial workers, musicians, military personnel, and anyone else who is exposed to loudness. Unfortunately, even listening to music at high volumes can damage ears. If OSHA states you must wear hearing protection to do your job, you are at risk. If people can identify your headphone music from several feet away, you are at risk. If your ears ring or hiss after a concert, you are at risk. If loud sounds or musical notes appear more distorted than others, you may be at risk. If you use power tools at close range, you are at risk.
Be aware of the dangers of loud sounds. Inner ear damage can be permanent. We want you to enjoy the sounds of life as long as possible. As always, we wish to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.