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How Noise Exposure Affects Our Hearing

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Excessive noise exposure can cause hearing loss and/or a condition called Tinnitus. 

Studies have shown that during World War II, for example, we knew very little about the effects of soldiers’ prolonged exposure to loud blasts or pulse signals from guns firing repeatedly. In Vietnam and the Korean War, we saw some improvement, but today, we do a much better job and are more aware of hearing conservation education for our troops, and as a society in general.

For example, we have ear foam, insertable ear plugs that do a wonderful job of keeping loud noises from doing permanent, irreversible damage to our ears, but this must consistently be explained, trained and reiterated.  Users can forget or get lazy – and without knowing it – don’t put the plugs in properly, or the plugs don’t go down into the ear canal as deeply as directed.  

When the ear plugs are not properly inserted, our noise exposure is at a higher risk, and we can damage our hearing or develop a condition called Tinnitus, or what some often describe as a “ringing” in the ear.   

Tinnitus is actually our brain detecting an internal sound with no external sound source.
— Dr. Kurt Wright

Common causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus doesn’t always develop from noise exposure; some patients develop a ringing in their ears as a result of:

  • Ear wax build-up, putting pressure on the ear drum
  • High blood pressure
  • A change or switch in medication

Any number of causes or conditions could be contributing to the ringing in our ears.  

A thorough exam from a Doctor of Audiology should be scheduled to determine the cause, and appropriate treatment of the ringing.

In our office at Manna Audiology in the Charlotte, NC area, we generally see two types of patients:

Patient A:  hears the ringing and yet has learned to cope.  These patients have trained their brains to put the sounds “in the background” of their auditory system, and live healthy, functional lives.

Patient B: hears the ringing and yet are utterly distressed to the point where they can’t hear, focus or function due to the intensity of the ringing in their ears.

Since there’s no cure for Tinnitus, our goal with treatment is to for Patient B to achieve the same state as Patient A.   And, we do this through a variety of re-training methods, and sometimes through fitting the patient with special hearing aids.

Around 80% of the patients I fit with hearing aids report that the device masks the ringing, and find some level of benefit.  Through a calibration process from a Doctor of Audiology, some hearing aids today are able to attain the frequency of the ringing, and withdraw it while masking the ringing with ‘other’ sounds like white noise, or simulated environmental sounds like the very faint sounds of falling rain or ocean waves.

While there’s currently no cure, if you have Tinnitus, there is hope!

3 Steps to maintain healthy hearing 

  1. Be aware of your surroundings.  
  2. Avoid excessive exposure to loud noises and over-exposure to unsafe decibel levels; either avoid these noises or be equipped with ear foam inserts that are properly and deeply inserted into the ear canal
  3. See a Doctor of Audiology for an evaluation upon the first sign of ringing, discomfort or any type of hearing loss. 

Have you ever experienced an unexplained ringing in your ears?  

If so, schedule an evaluation with a Doctor of Audiology today to determine a course of treatment that fits your condition and your lifestyle.