Noise Induced Hearing Loss: Signs and Impacts
I've helped hundreds of people who've experienced hearing loss caused by exposure to excessively loud sounds.
Police officers, Veterans, farmers, hunters, truck drivers, musicians, mechanics and construction workers all work in high-risk professions for noise-induced hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss affects our communication and sound perception...
But it can be hard to detect...
It's common for people with this type of hearing loss to genuinely feel they don't have any trouble hearing. The reason for this is straightforward: they hear half of the spectrum of sound normally and half very poorly. The abruptness with which the hearing drops off is a defining characteristic of noise exposure (see image below).
This can be confusing, as a person with this configuration of hearing loss can hear a car coming down the road from a kilometre away and therefore believe their hearing must be fine.
However, there are sounds they cannot hear, which they don't realize they're missing, such as birds chirping and household sounds like kitchen timers and alarm beeps,etc. Most importantly, they can't hear speech sounds such as: th, s, f, t, k.
Family may be the first to notice
For this reason, it is often family members who bring this lack of hearing to the attention of their loved ones... often pointing out the need for repetition when speaking to them, or sounds in the environment that may not audible to the person with the noise exposure.
What are common signs?
These are some common reports I have heard from people with this particular configuration of hearing loss:
- TV dialogue is unclear, even when volume is up high;
- Difficulty with speech understanding if speaker turns away;
- Difficulty following conversations with multiple talkers;
- Difficulty understanding certain female voices;
- Difficulty understanding grandchildren;
- Not hearing soft high-pitched environmental sounds, e.g. birdsong
- Accidentally leaving turn signal on in the car.
Other interesting observations
While this type of hearing damage typically affects both ears, sometimes one ear can be more affected in predictable ways.
For example, a hunter who shoots right-handed often has more hearing damage in the left ear, because that ear faces the barrel directly, while the head dampens sound reaching the right ear.
Similarly, a truck driver who drove for years with the driver's side window down will also have more damage to his or her left ear.
Differences between ears can be difficult to detect. However, in certain situations, it can become obvious, such as listening to sounds from an open window while lying in bed with one ear down on the pillow versus the other. Sometimes the birds will be audible with one ear down on the pillow, but not when the other ear is down.
What can be done?
Since this configuration of hearing loss is difficult to detect, it often goes untreated for far too long. Further influencing the common lack of treatment is the ability for the person to get by fairly easily in most quiet environments.
But life is a lot easier (and enjoyable!) when the full spectrum of sound is available.
I've had people in tears in my office because they could hear the crickets again while relaxing outside on a warm summer night.
If this sounds familiar, book an appointment for a hearing test!