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Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

2012-08-09

Ten million Americans have permanent, irreversible hearing loss from exposure to loud noise or sound. In addition, 30 million people are estimated to be exposed to injurious levels of noise each day. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the second most commonly reported occupational disease and is the most expensive disability for military and federal workers' compensation.

Noise-induced hearing loss is hearing loss caused by either a one-time exposure to very loud sound or by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time. Hearing loss may occur as either temporary threshold shift (when hair cells in the inner ear are able to recover) or, after a longer or more intense exposure, as permanent damage from loss of hair cells in the inner ear. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears or head with no external source of sound, is a symptom that frequently accompanies noise-induced damage to the hair cells. Progression of hearing loss is related to noise level, proximity of the harmful sound, time of exposure, and individual susceptibility. Most NIHL can be prevented. Hearing protection devices such as ear plugs or ear muffs are recommended when individuals are exposed to high noise levels, whether at work or during leisure or recreational activities. Prevention of NIHL is necessary for people both on and off the job.

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