Hearing is one of our most important senses. It gives us the ability to perceive various sounds and noises. We use hearing to talk to people, listen to music, and assess environmental and social situations. Among other species, humans have a narrow hearing range with hearing structures highly susceptible to situations that can damage hearing abilities.
Taking care of our ears is the initial step to having a healthy hearing ability. Hearing clinics and audiology centers offer a comprehensive and systematic assessment of a patient’s hearing difficulties. They also offer special services such as the ear microsuction or the removal of wax from the ear canal. This procedure is a hygienic method of removing ear wax to ensure better hearing.
While our sense of hearing is critical in our day-to-day routines, most people take this for granted by doing activities that damage their hearing ability. One of them is called acoustic trauma, a hearing injury caused by exposure to loud noise. To learn more about this, we’ll discuss what acoustic trauma means, its causes, proper treatment, and prevention.
What is acoustic trauma?
Acoustic trauma is an injury or damage to the inner ear caused by constant exposure to a high-decibel noise or excessively loud sound. This injury may happen in two ways: a single exposure to extremely loud noise or continuous exposure to noises at high decibels over long periods. Head injuries also trigger acoustic trauma, especially if there’s a ruptured eardrum or other damages to the inner ear.
The eardrum protects the inner ear and middle ear. Exposure to high-decibel noises damages the ear’s hearing mechanism by disrupting the small vibrations where the eardrum carries signals to the brain.
If exposure to loud noise is continuous at high-decibel sounds, the person may experience acoustic trauma, once the inner ear’s stereocilia are badly damaged. This condition can lead to hyperacusis or noise sensitivity and can even lead to progressive hearing loss.
Acoustic trauma has two types: acoustic and chronic. Acute acoustic trauma occurs through a single exposure to excessively loud sounds. A person may acquire this by spending long hours at a nightclub or music concert. It also results in gunshots and explosions in near proximity.
On the other hand, chronic acoustic trauma stems from prolonged exposure to less intense yet harmful sound levels. It often happens to employees working in factories or those who constantly listen to music at maximum volume.
The suggested maximum threshold for preventing potential risks of acoustic trauma is 85 decibels. This applies to continuous exposure to sound for over eight hours.
Symptoms of acoustic trauma
Hearing loss is the main symptom of acoustic trauma. Depending on the damage or exposure, tinnitus can be acute or chronic. The injury stems from the inner ear, where hair cells can break their connections to the brain’s nerve cells in charge of hearing.
Loud noise can also directly affect the ear structures. Sudden loud noise beyond 130 decibels can destroy the ear’s most sensitive structure called the organ of Corti. It can also damage the eardrum and the tensor tympani or the ear’s tiny muscles.
People suffering from long-term hearing damage may initially struggle to detect high-frequency noises. After a while, the patient will no longer hear lower frequencies as well. It is recommended to see an ear specialist to assess your hearing response to various sound frequencies and evaluate the extent of the damage.
One of the most important signs that indicate acoustic trauma is tinnitus, a hearing injury that causes a ringing or buzzing sound. A person with tinnitus will easily detect the symptom inside quiet environments. While tinnitus can stem from blood vessel changes, drug use, and other extreme factors, it commonly happens when a person is exposed to loud noises.
Treatment and prevention
Treatment for any signs of hearing loss is possible, but there’s no certain cure for it. An ear specialist may suggest technological assistance in the form of a hearing aid. Modern hearing aids such as cochlear implants may also help in dealing with hearing loss caused by acoustic trauma. Oral steroids may also be prescribed for acute acoustic trauma.
If a person is constantly exposed to loud noises in the workplace, an ear specialist may recommend wearing earplugs or other devices to protect the ear. Employers should also provide ear protection as part of workplace safety.
Hearing loss such as acoustic trauma is irreversible. Remember that you have only one chance to protect your hearing, so make sure to take extra precautions at all times.