How your ears work
Your ears are a complex mix of nerves, tiny bones and muscles.
Your hearing works via small, delicate hairs in your inner ear that vibrate in response to various sound waves. This vibration causes an electrical signal to travel up your auditory nerve to your brain, which then interprets the message as sound, allowing us to hear.
It’s all pretty fascinating (and complicated) stuff.
And because this system is so delicate and complex, there is quite a lot of room for things to go wrong.
The danger of loud sound
Let’s say that you are regularly plugging in and playing with your rock band.
This consistent exposure to loud sound can actually damage the cells and membranes in your cochlea. This occurs when those tiny hairs we mentioned earlier are overworked, which causes them to break and die.
The average person is born with around 16,000 hair cells within their ears. It sounds like a lot, but those 16,000 cells have to last your entire life as once they die – they don’t regrow.
That means that the more cells you damage or destroy, the less capable your ears will be of signaling sound to your brain – therefore affecting your ability to hear. And any damage to your inner ear or your ear's neural system tends to be permanent.
When will your hearing become affected?
You can lose between 30-50% of your original 16,000 hair cells before you start to notice any real changes to your ability to hear. But the problem here is that by the time you actually notice that your hearing is suffering, it’ll already be too late and the damage will be permanent.
You may notice that after a particularly loud gig or rehearsal your hearing is affected and sounds seem dampened, or perhaps there’s a constant ringing in your ear. But after an hour or two, you notice that your hearing has returned to normal.
But isn’t hearing loss supposed to be permanent?
What’s most likely happened in these cases is your hairs will have temporarily bent due to the high volume. But after a recovery period, the hairs have become straight again and your hearing has gone back to normal.
But as with anything, when they are repeatedly put under stress, your hairs can only be bent so much before they either break or become weak and frail. And with this damage comes varying degrees of hearing loss.