When the ears are exposed to extremely loud noises, or to prolonged loud noises, inner ear structures can be damaged, leading to noise-induced hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss (also called NIHL) is quite common, affecting about one-third of the nearly 30 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss.
What constitutes a loud noise?
Noise, or sound intensity, is measured in decibels. Normal conversation levels occur at about 60 decibels. Anything above 120 decibels can harm the ears and lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Examples of noises that reach 120 decibels or above include firecrackers, gunshots, and motorcycles.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, noise is damaging if:
You have to shout to be heard.
Your ears hurt.
Your ears ring.
You have difficulty hearing for a couple of hours after the exposure.
What is pitch?
Another measurement of noise, pitch, is the frequency of sound vibrations per second. The lower the pitch (deeper sound), the fewer vibrations per second. Pitch is measured in Hertz (Hz), which means cycles per second.
Small children tend to have better hearing than adults and can hear sounds as low as 20 Hz (a large pipe organ) or as high as 20,000 Hz (a special dog whistle that most humans cannot hear). When hearing loss begins, a person will, generally, first have trouble hearing high-pitched noises.