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Is there any research showing how prolonged exposure to background noises, particularly high frequency noises, affect hearing abilities? Does constant high pitched noise cause damage even a low volumes? E.g an alarm sounding, noise of an air plane, or noise from road works and building sites.

If so, what is the effect? and why does it happen?

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You're asking about high-pitched noises even at low volumes, but your examples are high in volume, not (necessarily) pitch. Which are you actually interested in? –  Armatus Jan 9 '13 at 18:56
    
Sorry, your right, it's a bit hard to think of examples - perhaps a constant alarm sounding in a neighbouring room... –  GriffinEvo Jan 9 '13 at 22:47
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Rodent protection modules for car engines give off high-pitched but quiet noises :) In any case, I don't think a high-pitched sound has any different effects of prolonged exposure compared to a low-pitched sound. –  Armatus Jan 9 '13 at 23:48
    
What about that from an industrial vacuum system for moving plastic pellets? The noise is in a high frequency not heard immediately by many (say 10,000 hz) but only after exposure of time. The more exposure, the more extreme and potential for hearing damage. Any comments pertaining to this? –  user4083 Jul 22 '13 at 19:04
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1 Answer

up vote 1 down vote accepted

The ear uses a series of hairs to parse out sound frequency in the cochlea. When the cochlear hairs die, we lose some frequency response.

As we get older, even without exposure to loud noises, the higher frequency responses tend to lose their response first. But loud noises have been linked to hearing loss and high tones are often lost first.

Hot off the presses: there's been some success in regenerating the cells which respond to sound in our ears.

I want to add @Armatus has a good point. Ultrasonic sounds - above hearing range - seem to not adversely affect hearing at all. Will humans and animals be harmed by frequencies outside their hearing range?

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