How can loud noise damage hearing?
Understanding how we hear will help you to understand how loud noise can hurt your hearing.
One of the most common bad effects of loud noise on hearing is a permanent hearing loss. This happens in the following way:
- The loud sound is collected by the ear as sound waves. The sound waves travel down the ear canal toward the eardrum with enough force to disrupt the delicate hearing system. If the sound is loud enough, it can dislodge the tiny bones of the middle ear.
- The loud sound passes through the middle ear and travels to the inner ear, also known as the cochlea. The tiny hair cells lining this fluid-filled chamber can be damaged as the loud sound reaches the inner ear.
- Only healthy hair cells can send electrical impulses to the brain. It is in the brain that the sound is understood and interpreted. Hair cells damaged by loud sound cannot send the impulse to the brain for interpretation.
- Intense brief noises, like a firecracker or an explosion, can damage hair cells, as can continuous and/or repeated exposure to high levels of noise.
- Once the hair cells are damaged, there is no current treatment to repair them.
How else can loud noise be harmful?
Loud noise can increase fatigue and cause irritability.
Noise can reduce the ability to pay attention to tasks. This is a concern at the workplace when it comes to workers’ safety: The ability to detect faulty equipment operation or warning signals can be reduced. Noise can also reduce productivity.
Noisy classrooms can make it harder for children to learn. To read more about the harmful impact of noise in schools, view the Noisy Classrooms page.
Noisy backgrounds can make understanding conversation harder. The noise can mask or cover up some of the sounds of speech, making a word like “time” sound like “dime.” More concentration and energy are needed not only to listen and hear over the noise but also to speak louder. As a result, voices can be strained, and laryngitis can develop.
Another common effect of loud sound on hearing is tinnitus. Tinnitus is ringing, buzzing, or other sounds in the ear.
Loud noise can also cause other physical problems, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Increased or abnormal heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping (even after the noise stops)
- Disruption of the development of a baby before birth
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association