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Acoustic trauma

Definition

Acoustic trauma is injury to the hearing mechanisms in the inner ear due to very loud noise.

Alternative Names

Injury - inner ear; Trauma - inner ear; Ear injury

Causes

Acoustic trauma is a common cause of sensory hearing loss. Damage to the hearing mechanisms within the inner ear may be caused by:

  • An explosion near the ear
  • Gunshots
  • Long-term exposure to loud noises (such as loud music or machinery)

Symptoms

  • Hearing loss
    • Usually partial and involving high-pitched sounds
    • May slowly get worse
  • Noises, ringing in the ear (tinnitus)

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will usually suspect acoustic trauma if hearing loss occurs after noise exposure. Audiometry may determine how much hearing has been lost.

Treatment

The hearing loss may not be treatable. The goal of treatment is to protect the ear from further damage. Eardrum repair may be needed.

A hearing aid may help you communicate. You can learn coping skills, such as lip reading.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Hearing loss may be permanent in the affected ear. Ear protection may prevent the hearing loss from getting worse.

Possible Complications

Progressive hearing loss is the main complication of acoustic trauma.

Tinnitus (ear ringing) can also occur.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:

  • You have symptoms of acoustic trauma
  • Hearing loss occurs or gets worse

Prevention

  • Wear protective ear plugs or earmuffs to protect against damage from loud equipment.
  • Be aware of risks connected with activities such as shooting guns, using chain saws, or driving motorcycles or snowmobiles.
  • Do not listen to loud music for long periods of time.

References

Lonsbury-Martin BL, Martin GK. Noise-induced hearing loss. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 151.


Review Date: 8/4/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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