An excellent review of noise-induced hearing loss

Photo credit: Denniz Futalan

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common type of hearing loss in the United States. NIHL affects about 25% of American adults age 20-69, most without significant occupational noise exposure, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NIHL is also the only type of hearing loss that is 100% preventable.

A wealth of information has been published over the last several decades about NIHL, first about occupational hearing loss and then about NIHL studies in animals. The mechanisms through which noise damages the ears are now understood down to the molecular and ultrastructural levels. There are now also possible targets for pharmaceutical treatment or prevention of NIHL.

A commonly-cited review of NIHL is the 2017 article by Cunningham and Tucci in the New England Journal of Medicine. I have cited it in some of my published articles. But this new review article by three doctors in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine is more comprehensive, discussing research on possible treatments for NIHL.

I especially like the fact that the authors discuss prevention of NIHL, something not included in the Cunningham and Tucci article.  In conclusion, the doctors state: “Thus, the prevention of noise-induced cochlear injury, via the use of hearing protection in loud occupational and recreational settings, remains the cornerstone of reducing the enormous burden of NIHL.”

I couldn’t agree more. Prevention of NIHL is simple and cheap: Avoid loud noise exposure, turn down the volume, use hearing protection or leave the noisy environment and you can avoid developing NIHL.

Special thanks to my noise colleague Jamie Banks for bringing the new review article to my attention.

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