Turn That Down! The Long-Term Effects of Continuous Noise Exposure

By Janki Patel

College kids are known to go to concerts every now and then, especially when their favorite artist is on tour. Otherwise, they choose to enjoy their music by blasting it in their cars or through their headphones. It seems fun and harmless, but there is a huge risk involved in those situations: the possibility of developing hearing loss. Not immediately, of course, but with the progression of age, it is possible [1].

It is commonly believed that the ringing in one’s ears, also known as tinnitus, will disappear soon after being in a loud environment. As of 2013, about 25 million American adults have experienced tinnitus for at least five minutes [2]. However, the auditory system itself goes through some irreversible and damaging changes over time [3]. In fact, 37.5 million American adults have experienced some trouble with their hearing. Moreover, 30 million Americans–ages 12 and over–have hearing loss in both ears [2]. Often, it is not just hearing loss. Individuals may also experience pressure in the ear canals, sound sensitivity, chronic ear pain [3].

The negative effects of continuous noise exposure were observed in mammals, specifically mice, when they were exposed to beyond normal hearing ranges in a study by by Dr. Sharon Kujawa and Dr. M. Charles Liberman of Harvard Medical School. They discovered that over time, in correlation to noise overexposure, the amount of certain auditory fibers in the ear decreased. This can make it harder to hear in noisy environments [4]. This is why many elderly people have a hard time hearing and constantly need people to speak louder: they no longer have the necessary fibers in their ears to hear the people around them. However, the age at which this occurs can vary based on how well one protects his or her ears. Listening to loud sounds―like firearms, loud music, and lawn mowers―for long periods of time can be incredibly harmful to one’s ears and can lead to age-related hearing loss more quickly than normal [5].

So, what can be done to prevent hearing loss? Avoid loud noises as much as possible. Even though many individuals in the modern day love jamming out in their cars or with their headphones, these behavioral patterns can be changed little by little. Additionally, the volume can be lowered every now and then. In fact, it is recommended that when listening to music through headphones, the volume should not be more than 60 percent [1]. With enough effort, you may be able save your sense of hearing.


  1.      Nathanson, Kathryn, and Susan Donaldson James. “Generation Deaf: Doctors Warn of Dangers of Ear Buds.” NBCNews.com, NBC Universal News Group, 8 June 2015, www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/generation-deaf-doctors-warn-dangers-ear-buds-n36004
  2. “Quick Statistics About Hearing.” National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 15 Dec. 2016, https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing#7
  3.      Cohen, Joyce. “That Ringing in Your Ears? Don’t Assume It Will Just Fade Away.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 July 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/that-ringing-in-your-ears-dont-assume-it-will-just-fade-away/2015/07/13/62967ffe-03b7-11e5-8bda-c7b4e9a8f7ac_story.html?utm_term=.277b2d1e7464.
  4.      Kujawa, S.G., Liberman, M.C. 2009. Adding Insult to Injury: Cochlear Nerve Degeneration after “Temporary” Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. The Journal of Neuroscience. 29: 14077
  5.      NIDCD Information Clearinghouse. “Age-Related Hearing Loss.” National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 28 Aug. 2017, www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss#4.