Factors that may damage or lead to loss of the hairs and nerve cells in your inner ear include:
- Aging. Exposure to sounds over the years can damage the cells of your inner ear.
- Heredity. Your genetic makeup may make you more susceptible to ear damage.
- Occupational noises. Jobs where loud noise is a regular part of the working environment, such as farming, construction or factory work, can lead to damage inside your ear.
- Recreational noises. Exposure to explosive noises, such as from firearms and fireworks, can cause immediate, permanent hearing loss. Other recreational activities with dangerously high noise levels include snowmobiling, motorcycling or listening to loud music. Personal music players, such as MP3 players, can cause lasting hearing loss if you turn the volume up high enough to mask the sound of other loud noises, such as those from a lawn mower.
- Some medications. Drugs, such as the antibiotic gentamicin and certain chemotherapy drugs, can damage the inner ear. Temporary effects on your hearing — ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or hearing loss — can occur if you take very high doses of aspirin, other pain relievers, antimalarial drugs or loop diuretics.
- Some illnesses. Diseases or illnesses that result in high fever, such as meningitis, may damage the cochlea.
Comparing loudness of common sounds
What kind of decibel levels are you exposed to during a typical day? To give you an idea, compare noises around you to these specific sounds and their corresponding decibel levels:
|85 to 90
||Heavy city traffic, power lawn mower, hair dryer
||Snowmobile, hand drill
||Chain saw, rock concert
|140 (pain threshold)
||Jet engine at takeoff
||12-guage shotgun blast
Adapted from National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 2008; the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2009; and American Tinnitus Association, 2009
Maximum sound-exposure durations
Below are the maximum noise levels on the job to which you may be exposed without hearing protection, and for how long.
|Maximum job-noise exposure allowed by law
|Sound level, decibels
||15 minutes or less
Source: Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration, 2005
Aug. 23, 2011
- Hearing loss. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://nihseniorhealth.gov/hearingloss/hearinglossdefined/01.html. Accessed April 21, 2011.
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- Lustig LR, et al. Ear, nose, & throat disorders. In: McPhee SJ, et al. Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment 2011. 50th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=2613. Accessed April 25, 2011.
- Weber PC. Etiology of hearing loss in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed April 21, 2011.
- Weener DJ, et al. Evaluation and management of hearing loss in older adults. Clinical Geriatrics. 2010;18:20.
- Common sounds. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/education/teachers/common_sounds.asp. Accessed April 21, 2011.
- Learn more about hearing loss prevention: Noise meter. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. http://18.104.22.168/niosh/topics/noise/abouthlp/noisemeter_flash/soundMeter_flash.html. Accessed April 28, 2011.
- Occupational noise exposure — 1910.95. U.S. Department of Labor. http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9735. Accessed April 28, 2011.
- How loud is too loud? American Tinnitus Association. http://www.ata.org/about-tinnitus/how-loud-too-loud. Accessed April 28, 2011.
- Isaacson B. Hearing Loss. The Medical Clinics of North America. 2010;94:973.
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