Noise-induced hearing loss affects primarily the mid-frequencies, because the inner ear is most sensitive to these frequencies.
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs typically in the mid-frequencies (Rabinowitz, 2000), typically around 4 kHz (3 - 6 kHz), see Fig. 1. This can be explained by the fact that the human ear is most sensitive in this frequency range (Fig. 2). In turn this relates with the frequency range where speech understanding is most important, namely between roughly 2 and 6 kHz (Killion & Mueller, 2000). Hence, noise exposure neither targets the base, nor the apical parts of the cochlea, as claimed by asker and answerer, respectively. High-frequency hair cells in the rat cochlea have been shown to be very susceptible to damaging noise, but the low-frequency hair cells may go unscathed (source: eMedicine).
The other answerer claims that
parts of our hearing apparatus responsible for perceiving these
[low-frequency] sounds are more fragile...
Hence, the claim that low-frequency regions in the cochlea are more sensitive than the more basal parts is not a claim supported by the bulk of the literature. In fact, as a rule of thumb, cochlear damage (inner ear damage) occurs most frequently first in the base, where the high frequencies are resolved. This holds for age-induced HL where high frequencies are lost first (Ciorba et al., 2011), as well as chemically-induced HL (Campo et al, 2013, barred some specific organic solvents that apparently do not follow this rule (Cappaert et al., 2002.
Fig. 1. Typical audiogram of noise-induced hearing loss showing loss of functional hearing at the mid-frequencies (Rabinowitz, 2000)
Fig. 2. Relation between perceived loudness and intensity (equal-loudness curves) for a normal-hearing person. source: Lumen Phsyics
- Campo et al., Dis Mon (2013); 59(4): 119–38
- Cappaert et al., Neurotoxicol Teratol (2002); 24: 503–10
- Ciorba et al., J Laryngol Otol (2011); 125(8):776-80
- Killion & Mueller, The Hearing Journal (2010); 63(1): 10-7
- Rabinowitz, Am Fam Physician (2000); 61*(9):2749-56