Sharp Sounds Damage Hearing?

18 November 2007

Question

I’ve heard that tools like hammers that make short, loud noises are supposed to be more damaging to hearing than something that makes a more continuous noise. I’d just like to get some confirmation on that.

Answer

Whenever you listen to sound, the sound actually hits the eardrum. That sound is actually amplified by a series of tiny little bones in the ear called ossicles. These ossicles vibrate and stimulate the float within the cochlear which, in turn converts the sound energy into electrical energy which is perceivedas noise by the brain.There are two different types of noise induced hearing loss. You have acute stage hearing loss, for example due to a large explosion or you may have something more gradual. This is more common in most people. This gradual increase in hearing loss is a combination of both the intensity of the sound as well as the duration of the sound. So for example, someone who shoots guns for a hobby may be exposed to very short bursts of noise but very high intensity and they may experience a similar degree of hearing loss compared to someone who's in a slightly different environment where the sound intensity's actually much lower but much more constant (e.g. the mining industry). There are also additional factors that can influence noise induced hearing loss. It's not just the combination of noise because people's tolerance to noise varies. Therefore there's some genetic influences in this as well. Noise induced hearing loss is not just the simple of noise experienced but also the genes that influence your hearing.

Yujay, ENT registrar at Addenbrooke's Hospital

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