Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss & Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The two main types of hearing loss have much in common. Each of them is a type of sensorineural hearing loss, meaning that the sensitive hair cells of the inner ear are damaged. However, the two types of damage occur in somewhat different ways. To make matters even more complex, many people have both noise-induced and age-related hearing loss at the same time. In order to unpack the relationships between these different types of hearing loss, we will need to know more about each of them, including potential relationships. If the causes of these types of hearing loss are overlapping, then the risks might be even greater than they appear. Let’s begin by understanding the nature of sensorineural hearing loss, so that the differences between the other forms become clear. 


Sensorineural Hearing Loss


Hearing loss can occur in any part of the ear ranging from the outer curvature to the innermost region of the cochlea. The types of hearing loss are differentiated in terms of the location within the ear. Conductive hearing loss occurs in the outer and middle ear where sound is transmitted to the more sensitive regions of the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss has a better chance of being repaired over time, but the other main type of hearing loss-sensorineural—tends to be permanent. Sensorineural hearing loss most commonly occurs due to damage to the tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia. These organelles are remarkably sensitive to differences between sounds, making them successful at deciphering speech. However, this same sensitivity makes them prone to damage over time. 


Noise-Induced Hearing Loss


One of the two most common types of noise-induced hearing loss is noise-induced. When the stereocilia are impressed with high volumes of sound pressure, they can become bent, broken, or otherwise damaged. The noise exposure that can cause damage comes in two forms. A single, extremely loud sound event can cause enough pressure to cause noise-induced hearing loss. However, blasts are not the only cause of this type of loss. A sound with some volume that occurs for a longer period of time can also cause hearing loss. The combination of volume and duration can cause hearing damage in either of these ways. Those who work in very loud environments are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss if the sound is extremely loud or if the working shift is very long. 


Age-Related Hearing Loss


Not only can the stereocilia be damaged through noise exposure, but they can also deteriorate as part of the natural process of aging. When these organelles are receptive to sound for a lifetime, they can become damaged as the years go by. There remain some questions about the origin of this type of hearing loss. Some say that inflammation or the oxidative damage of free radicals have to do with the cause, and others say that age-related hearing loss is basically another form of noise-related hearing loss. Although the exact cause is not clear, audiologists and researchers do estimate that the vast majority of people who reach an age beyond 70 will experience some of this loss. 


Prevention and Treatment


Although there is no known prevention for age-related hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented through hearing protection and limiting exposure to damaging sound. The best approach is to combine hearing protection in loud environments with doing what you can to reduce the time of noise exposure as much as possible. Recreational noise is a major cause of noise-induced hearing loss, including attending concerts or sporting events and playing music at a loud level through earbuds and headphones. 


If you have already experienced one of these types of noise-induced hearing loss, treatment options are improving all the time. The latest hearing aids are able to isolate voices in a crowd and limit background noise, making it much easier to communicate. If you are interested in pursuing this type of assistance, the first step is to get an accurate measure of your hearing ability through a thorough diagnostic test. 


Don’t delay contacting us today to schedule a hearing test! Our team will help you get the assistance you need, and we look forward to helping you hear at your best.