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Noise levels louder than a shouting match can damage parts of our inner ears called hair cells.
A­When you hear exceptionally loud noises, your stereocilia become damaged and mistakenly keep sending sound information to the auditory nerve cells.
Read on to find out exactly how something invisible like sound can harm our ears, how you can protect those precious hair cells and what happens when the ringing never stops.
New Yorkers are willfully resigned to a life of noise, particularly while riding through the city's 109-year-old subway system. But the heavy machinery and train cars that create a daily metal-on-metal cacophony can be harmful to your ears. On a recent Monday afternoon, a week before the start of National Protect Your Hearing Month, amNewYork joined Herget at several Manhattan stations to find out exactly how loud the subway system can get. Using a sound-measuring device, trains barreling into transit hubs like Times Square and smaller local stations ranged from 92 decibels to 102 decibels, a level people can be exposed to for up to 15 minutes without damaging hearing.
The measurements were consistent with a comprehensive 2009 study into transit noise in the American Journal of Public Health. The MTA has been trying to quiet its noisy subway system since the mid-1970s, including lubricating tracks on sharp curves, using quieter train wheels, and installing composite brake shoes on all subway cars to stop wheels from screeching, according to agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz.


For MTA workers, the agency requires an annual hearing test and hearing protection for employees exposed to at least 85 decibels over an eight-hour shift.
Tom Carrano, the director of subway safety at the Transport Workers Union Local 100, said that the union pushes for ways to quiet the workplace by using newer machines or relocating a noisy piece of equipment away from workers. But riders said the noise is just a fact of life in New York City, even if it can be annoying. Afiya Benn, a 26-year-old secretary from Canarsie, said she is used to the sound, though admitted to cranking up the volume on her music device when a station get too loud.
In the case of rock concerts and fireworks displays, the ringing happens because the tips of some of your stereocilia actually have broken off. Chris Herget, an audiologist who practices at New York City Hearing and Balance in midtown. And even though trains can enter and leave stations quickly, repeatedly listening to that level of sound from a platform can contribute to hearing issues, like tinnitus, the ringing in one's ear, over time, Herget said. The noises around you were muffled briefly, replaced with a buzzing inside your head, almost as if your ears were screaming. When sound waves hit them, they convert those vibrations into electrical currents that our auditory nerves carry to the brain.


When sound waves travel through the ears and reach the hair cells, the vibrations deflect off the stereocilia, causing them to move according to the force and pitch of the vibration. Without hair cells, there is nothing for the sound to bounce off, like trying to make your voice echo in the desert. For instance, a melodic piano tune would produce gentle movement in the stereocilia, while heavy metal would generate faster, sharper motion. However, since you can grow these small tips back in about 24 hours, the ringing is often temporary [source: Preuss]. This motion triggers an electrochemical current that sends the information from the sound waves through the auditory nerves to the brain.



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