Sound can be harmful from levels starting at 80 decibels. The cilia become overburdened as a result of the sound pressure and become damaged. This can happen on a single occasion if the noise is really loud, but it can also happen if you are exposed to loud noise too often or over a longer period of time.
Once the cilia are damaged, they no longer pass on any information, which means that you can’t hear as well, or they pass on the wrong information, such as ringing or hissing sounds. The famous ringing in your ears after a night out is the first sign of hearing damage and can turn into permanent ringing or hissing; this is called tinnitus.
You can also become oversensitive to certain sounds; this is called hyperacusis. Other types of hearing damage include distortion, where you hear distorted sounds, and diplacusis, where you hear sounds differently with each ear.
– Hey, didn’t you hear me?
You will usually notice the first signs of hearing loss by not being able to hear sounds very well; people will start pointing out that you haven’t heard them on a more regular basis. You will also notice that you can’t understand people very well if there is any background noise, for example if you are in a pub or at a party.
– Can you turn the TV down a bit?
Later, you will not be able to hear louder sounds very well either. You will always be turning the volume on the TV up. So if people start asking you to turn the TV down a bit, that can be a sign.
– What did you say?
Later still, all noises will be softer and different: distorted, dull and unintelligible. Regardless of how loud someone is talking. Don’t let it get to that stage.