The ability to hear is a gift. It’s something to value and protect. After all, anyone can lose their hearing at any time in life. While many things outside our control can cause hearing loss, one thing over which we do have some control is noise.
Noise causes hearing loss. Yet, every day you can protect your hearing by keeping down the volume—on smartphones, MP3 players, stereos, televisions, and other audio devices. Also, take care to limit the duration and volume when using earbuds and headphones. When you do know you’ll be around loud noise, wear ear protection. And get into the habit of using your fingers to quickly plug your ears when an unexpected loud sound, like a siren, suddenly bombards you.
Noise threatens our hearing because we hear sound when delicate hair cells in our inner ears vibrate. This creates nerve signals that the brain understands as sound. If we overload these delicate hair cells with exposure to loud noises, we damage them. This results in sensorineural hearing loss and often tinnitus—or “ringing in the ears.” The hair cells that vibrate most quickly—and that allow us to hear higher-frequency sounds like birds singing and children speaking—usually become damaged, dying first.
In addition to excessive noise—from construction, rock music, or gunfire, for example—the main causes of hearing loss are:
- Aging (presbycusis)
- Sudden onset
- Infections (otitis media)
- Injury to the head or ear
- Birth defects or genetics (e.g., otosclerosis)
- Ototoxic reaction to drugs or cancer treatment (e.g., antibiotics, chemotherapy, radiation)