Are high sounds worse for your hearing than low sounds?

Are high sounds worse for your hearing than low sounds?

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From about 80 dB it is possible to suffer loss hearing after a couple of hours. But does it make a difference what frequencies those sound waves are or is it just the volume of the sound in dB that matters?

In your ear the first sounds you lose in case of hearing loss are the high sounds because they are at the beginning of your ear. So are high sounds also more dangerous?

Yes. Most of the discussion of noise-induced hearing loss talks about the loudness of the noise, only rarely mentioning that higher-pitched noise is more damaging. Probably because it is much easier to measure the amount than the frequency.

The ear - normal hearing

The ear is roughly divided into three parts. The outer (external) ear includes the part you can see (called the pinna) and the narrow tube-like structure (the ear canal), which your health professional can look down with a torch. At the end of the canal is the eardrum. This separates the external ear from the middle ear. The eardrum is a tightly stretched membrane, a bit like the skin of a drum.

Anatomy of the ear

Your ears do the remarkable job of allowing you to hear a huge range of sounds, from a whisper t.

Anatomy of the ear

Does tinnitus lead to hearing loss?

The middle ear is an air-filled compartment. Inside it are the three smallest bones in the body, called the malleus, incus and stapes. These bones are connected to each other. The last in the line, the stapes, also makes contact with the inner (internal) ear. The air space of the middle ear connects to the back of the nose by the Eustachian tube.

Inner ear diagram

The inner ear is made up of two components, the cochlea and the vestibular system. The cochlea is involved with hearing. The vestibular system helps with balance. The cochlea is a snail-shaped chamber filled with fluid. It is lined with special sensory cells called hair cells. These cells transform sound waves into electrical signals. The cochlea is attached to a nerve that leads to the brain.

The vestibular system is made up of a network of tubes, called the semicircular canals, plus the vestibule. The vestibular system also contains special sensory cells but here they detect movement instead of sound. Both the cochlea and the vestibular system are connected to a nerve which carries electrical signals to the brain.

What Noises Cause Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss can result from a single loud sound (like firecrackers) near your ear. Or, more often, hearing loss can result over time from damage caused by repeated exposures to loud sounds. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for hearing loss to occur. The longer the exposure, the greater the risk for hearing loss (especially when hearing protection is not used or there is not enough time for the ears to rest between exposures).

Here are some sources of loud noise that you may be exposed to. If you are repeatedly exposed to them over time, they can cause hearing loss.

  • Music from smartphones and personal listening devices, particularly when the volume is set close to the maximum
  • Fitness classes
  • Children&rsquos toys
  • Concerts, restaurants, and bars
  • Sporting events, such as football, hockey, and soccer games
  • Motorized sporting events, such as monster truck shows, stock car or road races, and snowmobiling
  • Movie theaters
  • Power tools
  • Gas-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers
  • Sirens
  • Firearms
  • Firecrackers

Common Sources of Noise and Decibel Levels

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). A whisper is about 30 dB, normal conversation is about 60 dB, and a motorcycle engine running is about 95 dB. Noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to your ears.

The table below shows dB levels and how noise from everyday sources can affect your hearing.

Sounds at these dB levels typically don&rsquot cause any hearing damage.

The time estimates listed in the &ldquoTypical Response&rdquo column are based on the NIOSH exchange rate of 3 dB. For more information, visit NIOSH&rsquos website.

Sounds May Be Louder Than What You Hear

How loud something sounds to you is not the same as the actual intensity of that sound. Sound intensity is the amount of sound energy in a confined space. It is measured in decibels (dB). The decibel scale is logarithmic, which means that loudness is not directly proportional to sound intensity. Instead, the intensity of a sound grows very fast. This means that a sound at 20 dB is 10 times more intense than a sound at 10 dB. Also, the intensity of a sound at 100 dB is one billion times more powerful compared to a sound at 10 dB.

Two sounds that have equal intensity are not necessarily equally loud. Loudness refers to how you perceive audible sounds. A sound that seems loud in a quiet room might not be noticeable when you are on a street corner with heavy traffic, even though the sound intensity is the same. In general, to measure loudness, a sound must be increased by 10 dB to be perceived as twice as loud. For example, ten violins would sound only twice as loud as one violin.

The risk of damaging your hearing from noise increases with the sound intensity, not the loudness of the sound. If you need to raise your voice to be heard at an arm&rsquos length, the noise level in the environment is likely above 85 dB in sound intensity and could damage your hearing over time.

How Do I Know the Sound Level is Safe?

The effect of lower noise levels over long periods is the same as louder noise levels over a shorter period. You can use a sound level meter (SLM) to measure noise around you. Free SLMs developed as smartphone apps are available. Some of these apps can predict your maximum allowable daily noise dose, like the NIOSH SLM app developed for iOS devices to help promote better hearing health and prevention efforts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend maintaining environmental noises below 70 dBA over 24-hours (75 dBA over 8-hours) to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. The EPA also specified limits for speech interference and annoyance at 55 dBA for outdoors activities and 45 dBA for indoor activities. More details about this topic can be found on the NIOSH Science Blog &mdash Understanding Noise Exposure Limits: Occupational vs. General Environmental Noise.

Looking for Data?

If you are looking for data on noise levels from published studies and noise level tests, visit

Hyperacusis triggers

For people who experience pain, hyperacusis seems to come in spells. After being exposed to a new loud noise, you might find you have daily pain for days or weeks triggered by various noises. The pain might be a dull headache, burning, throbbing or a sharp stab. This can have a significant impact on your quality of life.

Energy that Comes Through Our Ears

“A little known function of the ear is transforming stimuli from our environment into energy. The ear is a generator for the nervous system and brain” ( Listening for Wellness ). The vestibule , a part of the ear that contributes to hearing, not only listens to signals and sends them to the brain, but it also transforms body movements into energy. Any time we dance, walk, or work out, our body sends vibrations to the vestibule. The vestibule sends messages to the brain where they are processed into energy. “50% of the energy that the brain needs to function optimally comes from those body sensations which are channeled through the vestibule” ( Listening For Wellness ).

One of the questions that a doctor might ask you if you are feeling depressed is, “how often are you exercising?” You may think that you don’t have the energy to exercise, but the more you move the more that the vestibule can transform your movements into energy, feeding that into the brain. If you are not moving enough, 50% of your energy is completely drained. The vestibule not only uses movement to send energy to the brain, it also works with the cochlea to convert sound into energy.

High Frequency Sounds

“High frequencies are food for the brain. They energize it, stimulate it, make it alert and enable it to focus and remember” ( Listening for Wellness ). The cochlea is a huge help when it comes to giving us energy. The cochlea is filled with tiny hair cells that help turn frequencies into sounds. The hair cells “are thinly spaced in the low frequency zone, becoming more numerous in the high frequency zone. Just the sheer number of cells receiving high frequency sounds already explains why they charge the brain more than low frequency sounds. In addition, high frequencies already carry more energy than low frequencies” ( Listening for Wellness ).

Frequencies may not seem important at first, but it’s one way we help ground a child’s emotions if they struggle with sensory issues, slow processing and are often distracted by ambient noise in the background that causes them to lose focus and attention. Using a mixture of high and low frequencies with music therapy can be a powerful resource in reorganizing the brain and can prep it for speech and language development , auditory processing and higher learning.

Low Frequency Sounds

The saccule, located in the ear, responds to sounds in the low frequency range. Any sound with a low base, like rock music or rap makes us want to move. “Sound induces movement and, in doing so, contributes to our energy level” ( Listening for Wellness ). Because of the nature of low frequency sound, too much can exhaust us. “With rock, the liquid inside the semicircular canals of the vestibule starts to rotate, and we yield to its rhythms. If it keeps rotating as the music goes on, we may soon find ourselves in a state of trance.” ( Listening for Wellness ).

Low frequency sounds are actually used for leaders who want to manipulate or brainwash their people. All of the major speeches given by Adolf Hitler came after a lot of drumming that would put listeners into a hypnotic trance! Due to these dangers, we need to be careful of the types of frequencies we hear and balance them to obtain the right amount of energy, just as if we were watching our calories. An example of a good balance is a military march. They mix low frequency sounds (the drums) that make soldiers want to move but also can be tiring, and high frequency sounds (the trumpets) that stimulate the brain and give it energy so the soldiers can march longer.

As we combine these same low and high frequencies together through music therapy , troubled behavior often becomes more calm, attention and focus improves, information is retained, and the child’s balance and coordination is strengthened.

If you find you&rsquore tiring more easily than you used to, it may not be your age&mdashit might be hearing loss. Remember the automatic listening mentioned at the beginning of this article? When you have hearing loss, you have to concentrate more to understand what you&rsquore hearing. You may even be guessing what people are saying by reading lips, facial expressions and body language.

In fact, a study by the Better Hearing Institute estimates that untreated hearing loss costs the United States $56 billion each year in lost productivity at work, much of which can be blamed on hearing loss fatigue. A survey by the Danish Institute for Social Research found that as many as one in five people with hearing loss stop working altogether. Of those who do work, 15 percent are too tired at the end of the day to pursue leisure activities.

Fortunately, hearing aids can reduce hearing loss fatigue. When the sounds in your environment are amplified, it takes less effort for you to hear speech and other sound. Today&rsquos technology makes it even easier. Many hearing devices have features which isolate and amplify the sound you want to hear while significantly reducing or removing background noise.

What are Five Sounds People with Hearing Loss Can’t Hear

Did you know that hearing loss affects around 14 percent of the adult population in this country – including 25 percent of people over the age of 55. Tack on another 14.9 percent for kids who have some degree of hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the impact this problem is clear. What do you think these individuals can’t hear, though?

What You Need to Know about Hearing Loss

Hearing range varies from person to person, depending on a number of factors such as their type of hearing loss. There are four categories of hearing loss:

Conductive – Implies sounds cannot get through to the inner ear to be interpreted by the brain.

Sensorineural – Loss results from damage or a defect to the inner ear or hearing nerve. The damage might be due to a congenital disorder, disease or trauma

Mixed Hearing Loss – A combination of both conductive and sensorineural problems

Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder – Occurs when the brain cannot interpret the sound due to damage to the inner ear.

Each form of loss brings on different symptoms. There are some common complaints between them, though: including what sounds they may or may not hear. Consider five sounds a person with hearing loss might miss.

Frequencies That are High

For some individuals, their hearing loss is limited to high frequencies – this person fails to interpret anything above 2,000 Hertz. This form of hearing loss makes it difficult to understand words. When this person watches TV or has a conversation, certain words will sound muttered or unclear for this person. The words affected contain the consonants S, H, and F, which usually fall between 1,500 to 6,000 Hertz.

Frequencies That are Low

Often the defect is at the opposite end of the sound scale. The low-frequency hearing loss involves sensorineural damage and impacts sound produced at less than 2,000 Hertz. Usually, low frequency hearing loss is a genetic or congenital defect such as cochlear malformation.

Soft Tones

A person with conductive hearing loss can hear most sounds if they are loud enough, but not at normal volumes. This is why amplifying the sound with hearing aids is a solution for them and why they are always turning up the TV or need headphones to hear music. The ears work if the sound is loud enough to get through. When someone speaks in a normal voice, they may hear something but it sounds mumbled.

Conversation in a Noisy Room

Sometimes, it’s what you can hear that becomes the problem. People with a significant hearing challenge will experience something call recruitment noise. In other words, the background sounds overwhelm everything else. A sound like the air conditioner turning on masks all other noise.
This background noise can be painfully loud causing physical distress, too. The phenomenon occurs when an individual has both normal and damaged hair cells in the inner ear. The normal cells take over for damaged ones close by causing the sound to be excessively loud.

Speech of Any Kind

Profound hearing loss means you don’t hear speech at all. Medical professionals use a classification system to measure hearing loss in decibels – a person with normal hearing measures anywhere from -10 to 15 dB HL (decibels of hearing loss) during a hearing test. To be diagnosed with profound hearing loss, the classification is 91 or more dB HL.

No two people hear or don’t hear the same thing regardless of their hearing challenges. It all depends on why your hearing is diminished and how severely.

* How hearing works
* hearing loss
* conductive hearing loss
* sensorineural
* Studies
* Mechanisms

Costco Rates High for Value

More than 6 in 10 members said they were completely or very satisfied with their hearing aids.

But the survey reveals some differences from brand to brand. Costco’s in-house brand of hearing aids, Kirkland, landed at the top of the ratings, with a reader score for Overall Satisfaction of 76 (out of 100), followed closely by the Signia brand, at 75. NuEar and Beltone ended up at the bottom of the ratings chart, with a score of 67.

Costco's Kirkland brand was the only brand to receive top marks from members for value, which we defined as satisfaction with a hearing aid’s performance vs. its cost.

Rexton also received high marks for value, but the other brands got average to low scores.

Value is an important factor to consider, because it is the strongest predictor of members’ overall satisfaction with their hearing aids.

Insurance Coverage Is Not a Given
As you may already know if you've shopped for hearing aids, insurance for these devices is often spotty, and some insurers offer no coverage at all.

In our survey, more than half of the 15,558 members who reported on the retailers where they bought hearing aids said insurance covered none of their initial costs.

Hearing Aid Pricing
When it comes to prices, Costco stands out not only for its Kirkland brand but also for the many other hearing aid brands it sells, according to the 4,391 CR members who rated individual retailers.

In fact, Costco is by far the most popular individual hearing aid retailer in our survey. And it is the only retailer to obtain top marks for price transparency and its selection of price plan options.

For those who qualify, the Veterans Administration is also a good option. It topped our chart of retailer types.

Our ratings of hearing aid retailers include, in alphabetical order, Audibel, Beltone, Connect Hearing, Costco, HearUSA, Miracle-Ear, Sam’s Club, and Starkey Store.

How Does Loud Noise Cause Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is a decrease in your ability to hear or understand speech and sounds around you. Hearing loss can happen when any part of the ear or the nerves that carry information on sounds to your brain do not work in the usual way. In some cases, hearing loss can be temporary. However, it can become permanent when vital parts of the ear have been damaged beyond repair. Damage to any part of the ear can lead to hearing loss.

Loud noise is particularly harmful to the inner ear (cochlea). A one-time exposure to extreme loud sound or listening to loud sounds for a long time can cause hearing loss. Loud noise can damage cells and membranes in the cochlea. Listening to loud noise for a long time can overwork hair cells in the ear, which can cause these cells to die. The hearing loss progresses as long as the exposure continues. Harmful effects might continue even after noise exposure has stopped. Damage to the inner ear or auditory neural system is generally permanent.

Damaged Hair Cells in Your Ears Can Lead to Hearing Loss

The average person is born with about 16,000 hair cells within their cochlea. These cells allow your brain to detect sounds. Up to 30% to 50% of hair cells can be damaged or destroyed before changes in your hearing can be measured by a hearing test. By the time you notice hearing loss, many hair cells have been destroyed and cannot be repaired.

After leaving a very loud event, such as a concert or football game, you may notice that you don&rsquot hear as well as before. You might not hear whispers, sound might seem muffled, or you may hear ringing in your ears. Normal hearing usually returns within a few hours to a few days. This is because the hair cells, similar to blades of grass, will bend more if the sound is louder. But they will become straight again after a recovery period.

However, if loud noise damaged too many of the hair cells, some of them will die. Repeated exposures to loud noises will over time destroy many hair cells. This can gradually reduce your ability to understand speech in noisy places. Eventually, if hearing loss continues, it can become hard to understand speech even in quieter places.

Noise Can Also Damage Nerves in Your Ears

In addition to damaging hair cells, noise can also damage the auditory nerve that carries information about sounds to your brain. Early damage may not show up on your hearing test. It can create a &lsquohidden hearing loss&rsquo that may make it difficult for you to understand speech in noisy places. The effect of loud noise over time affects how well you might hear later in life. It also affects how quickly you might develop hearing problems, even after exposure has stopped.

How Do We Hear?

We hear sound because of vibrations (sound waves) that reach our ears. We recognize those vibrations as speech, music, or other sounds.

Outer Ear
The outer ear&mdashthe part of the ear you see&mdashfunnels sound waves into the ear canal. The sound waves travel through the ear canal to reach the eardrum.

Middle Ear
The eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves and sends these vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear. These bones amplify, or increase, the sound vibrations and send them to the inner ear.

Inner Ear
The inner ear contains a snail-shaped structure filled with fluid called the cochlea. Sound vibrations create waves in the cochlear fluids. As the waves peak, they cause tiny hair cells to bend, which converts the vibrations into electrical signals. These tiny hair cells are called stereocilia (types of receptors that can detect sound).

Auditory Nerve
The auditory nerve carries the electrical signals from the inner ear to the brain. The brain interprets the signals as sound that you recognize and understand.

Causes of low-frequency hearing loss

Causes of low-frequency hearing loss can be age, noise, diseases or infections. It may also be caused by genetic factors. A low-frequency hearing loss is typically a sensorineural hearing loss, which is a hearing loss normally caused by damage to the hair cells in the inner ear that receive the sounds and convert them to signals that are transmitted to the brain by the auditory nerves.

Can you pass our hearing test? Try our quick hearing test.


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