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Acoustic trauma

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

Causes

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

  • Explosion near the ear
  • Firing a gun near the ear
  • Long-term exposure to loud noises (such as loud music or machinery)

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Partial hearing loss that most often involves exposure to high-pitched sounds. The hearing loss may slowly get worse.
  • Noises, ringing in the ear (tinnitus).

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will most often 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 also learn coping skills, such as lip reading.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Hearing loss may be permanent in the affected ear. Wearing ear protection when around sources of loud sounds 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 your provider if:

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

Prevention

Take the following steps to help prevent hearing loss:

  • Wear protective ear plugs or earmuffs to prevent hearing damage from loud equipment.
  • Be aware of risks to your hearing from activities such as shooting guns, using chain saws, or driving motorcycles and snowmobiles.
  • DO NOT listen to loud music for long periods of time.

Alternative Names

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

References

Arts HA. Sensorineural hearing loss in adults. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 150.

Lonsbury-Martin BL, Martin GK. Noise-induced hearing loss. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 152.

O'Handley JG, Tobin EJ, Shah AR. Otorhinolaryngology In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 18.

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Review Date 5/25/2016

Updated by: Sumana Jothi, MD, specialist in laryngology, Assistant Clinical Professor, UCSF Otolaryngology, NCHCS VA, SFVA, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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