Auditory processing is what enables us to filter out meaningful information from surrounding sound. Therefore, some might wonder if noise pollution or particularly loud environments could hamper it.
The short answer is: Yes.
However, it is important to understand that, just as hearing is different from auditory processing, the same goes for signs of damage to it.
Noise and Hearing Damage
When someone is going deaf due to exposure to loud noises, the proper term for it is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). However, there are a number of different ways this can happen. A few examples include:
- Damage to important cells in the inner ear (e.g. hair cells of the cochlea).
- Damage to the auditory nerve that carries the signal between the ear and the brain.
- Damage to the eardrum from particularly explosive bursts of sound.
- Damage to the ears through viruses involving sudden hearing loss.
In any of these cases, sound isn’t being picked up at all, leaving the brain with no signal to process and medical treatment will certainly be warranted.
That said though, the industry has come a long way in the advancement of hearing aids to address NIHL. Technologies like bone conduction as well as inner ear surgery have introduced more ways to address the physical condition.
Noise and Auditory Processing Disorder
In contrast to direct damage done to the ear, damage to auditory processing comes in the form of increased stress on executive functioning.
In other words, your pain comes more from the brain.
Remember that, unlike hearing, our brains work more actively to ‘tune out’ noise from the background to maintain focus.
In particularly noisy environments, however (such as on the streets, construction yards, sporting events etc), the brain takes a greater deal of stress to maintain concentration.
This becomes harder to do as people age. It is one of the reasons why young children are discouraged from being exposed to noisy environments at the risk of weakening their developing brain’s listening skills in the long term. The stress of constantly maintaining concentration for prolonged periods can take a tremendous amount of energy and results in exhaustion. Over time, this can have adverse effects on your brain’s structure. Signs of this include:
- Weaker focus during spoken conversation.
- Weaker attention span in noisier environments.
- Tendency to misunderstand tone and audio cues.
Now, in both cases, it is highly advisable to reduce exposure to loud noises in general (whether by frequenting quieter places more often or reduce volume when listening to things like headphones).
In the case of auditory processing disorder, however, more needs to be done. Retreating to quieter spaces may not accomplish much if your stress levels are still high. The same goes for lack of rest and other bad habits that can have negative effects on the brain.
Make a point to have periods of relaxation that requires silence. Asides from that, you can try musical and listening exercises designed to strengthen the pathways that the brain uses for listening. (The ones we use in the Tomatis® program are one example of this.)
So, again, noise can certainly compromise your ability to discern meaningful information from sounds. However, take note that it’s still important to be aware of your brain’s state even after the volume has been turned down.
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