Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common type of hearing loss. There are some fairly obvious ways to damage your hearing, such as listening to music at excessive volumes, and attending concerts or firing weapons without hearing protection. But there are also situations where protecting your hearing may not seem so important. Consider the following sneaky causes of hearing loss.

1. Workplace Noise

Although many construction and manufacturing jobs state that hearing protection should be worn at all times on the job, these warnings are not always heeded. Those who wear hearing protection may not be wearing it at all times — it may be removed to talk with co-workers or supervisors despite close proximity to high-noise-producing machines, and depending upon how loud those machines are, damage can be caused fairly quickly. Even with hearing protection, noise damage can slowly accumulate and wear on the delicate hair cells in the inner ear.

2. Ototoxic Medications

Painkillers and other medications have chemical properties that make them ototoxic, or toxic to the sensory cells in the ear. Taking painkillers in high quantities creates not only a risk for dependency but for hearing loss, as well. Strong pain medications first cause a ringing in the ears before beginning to have adverse effects on hearing, but the impairment will often go away after discontinued use.

3. Smoking

Because of the impact and high profile of major diseases caused by smoking, potential hearing damage as a side effect of smoking often flies under the radar. But nicotine is a vasoconstrictor that causes blood vessels to shrink slightly, restricting blood flow to the inner ear and preventing oxygen from reaching it. Over a lifetime, this “suffocates” the ear.

Stadium noise hearing damage
Driving noise hearing damage
Hunting noise hearing damage

4. Driving a Convertible

Driving more often creates the potential for developing or worsening hearing loss, thanks mostly to the sounds of the road and other passing vehicles. Some cars dampen sound, but convertibles lose that extra layer of “quiet ride” protection, leaving ears exposed to potentially dangerous noise levels around them. An October 2009 study found that driving some convertibles at speeds between 50 and 70 miles per hour exposed drivers to noise levels of 88 to 90 dB — beyond the level where damage begins to occur (at 85 dB).

5. Public Transportation

The squeal and grind of light rails, trains, and even buses coming to a stop have the potential to cause hearing damage to daily riders of public transportation. Rough or curved tracks prevent smooth rides, leading to even more noise. And those who are waiting for their bus or train are exposed to potential traffic on a busy street, which can sometimes reach levels of 100 dB or more.

6. Attending Sporting Events

The danger of noise at sporting events is often overlooked, but it can reach levels similar to those of concerts. Last year Seattle’s CenturyLink Field posted a decibel record of 137.6, enough to cause permanent damage in 30 seconds. Noise levels of 115 dBs or more — about the equivalent of a concert — are not uncommon but are safe to experience for no more than 15 minutes.

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