Damage to the ears caused by a single exposure to loud noise can cause temporary tinnitus, and repeated exposure to loud noise may lead to permanent tinnitus and hearing loss. NYU Langone specialists recommend taking the following steps to protect yourself.
Loud noise can harm intricate structures in your ears, causing tinnitus. This may be temporary; for example, it’s common to experience a ringing in the ears after a loud concert. But with repeated exposure, tinnitus may become a persistent condition.
The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that workplace exposure to noise not exceed 85 decibels. A decibel is one standard unit of sound pressure, which is how noise is measured. To put that in perspective, a normal conversation might register at around 60 decibels, and a jumbo jet takeoff is closer to 125 decibels.
Protecting your ears from prolonged exposure to loud noise—especially noise at or above the 85-decibel limit—is the best way to avoid tinnitus. If you work with industrial equipment such as jackhammers or chainsaws, or if your job requires proximity to a shooting range or active firearms, always wear protection in the form of earplugs or earmuffs. Musicians, especially performers whose music is electrically amplified to loud volumes, should also wear protective gear.
Tinnitus can also be caused by listening to music at a very high volume through headphones or earbuds. Commuters who ride a subway or bus may be tempted to turn up the volume to compensate for a noisy environment, but this may lead to permanent damage.
Some smartphone applications can tell you the decibel level of your environment. This way, you can monitor the noise level around you and, when appropriate, take steps to protect your hearing.
Some medical conditions that affect the circulatory system can cause tinnitus. Specifically, blood vessel disorders that require the heart to work extra hard to move blood through the body causes a condition known as pulsatile tinnitus.
For example, if cholesterol and other deposits build up inside blood vessels, it takes more effort for the heart to pump blood through the vessels. As a result, blood flows more forcefully through blood vessels near the ears, often producing an audible rushing sound that has the same rhythm as your heartbeat.
Maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels may prevent pulsatile tinnitus. NYU Langone’s doctors and nutritionists can recommend ways to help you manage cholesterol and high blood pressure by altering your diet or, if appropriate, taking certain medications. Alleviating stress and exercising regularly can also lower blood pressure.
Stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue can all contribute to tinnitus. Our doctors understand that tinnitus itself can elevate stress levels, which can lead to sleeplessness and in turn increase anxiety or depression.
Taking steps to break the cycle of emotional distress and fatigue may help control symptoms and prevent tinnitus from getting worse. Physicians, therapists, and physiatrists at NYU Langone’s Integrative Health Services can help you manage stress, reduce anxiety or depression, and get more sleep. Services offered include acupuncture and acupressure, massage therapy, and meditation.
In addition, some people find that talking to a psychotherapist about how tinnitus affects job performance or personal relationships is helpful in managing stress, anxiety, and depression.
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