Causes of Injury
Hello, I’m Dr. Kent. Exposure to harmful noise — sounds that are too loud, too close, or that last too long — can damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear and cause noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL. Once damaged, the microscopic hair cells inside the cochlea, called cilia, cannot repair themselves.
NIHL is one of the most common occupational injuries. It can occur gradually over time or with one single exposure. Repeated exposure to loud sounds over a period of time can cause permanent inner ear damage. This type of NIHL develops gradually and is caused by multiple exposures to any source of excessive noise in the workplace or at home, and compounds any other types of hearing loss. For example, a sailor on a ship may gradually experience hearing loss as a result of extended exposure to a ship’s loud, sustained noise.
NIHL can also be the result of a one-time exposure to high intensity noise, such as small-arms fire, improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, or artillery fire.
Individuals with NIHL may be unaware of their hearing loss and may not notice communication difficulties in quiet listening situations. However, in noisy listening environments, such as combat, close proximity to loud vehicles or aircraft, weapons fire, or industrial operations, hearing can be more difficult and can adversely affect communication and mission readiness.
It’s estimated that as many as 30 million Americans are exposed to potentially dangerous levels of noise at work. Although the military provides the means and training to protect Service members’ hearing, many in the military experience NIHL.
There are a number of factors contributing to the incidence of hearing loss. These include:
- Noisy work environments
- Military operations, including combat
- Improper or non-use of appropriate hearing protective devices
- Inadequate or varied noise control, or equipment standards related to military systems, machinery, vehicles, and weaponry, and
- Noisy hobbies, such as hunting, concerts, gaming, woodworking, sporting events, clubs, loud restaurants, or using personal listening devices with the volume turned up too high