It’s the New Year, which for the majority of us means vowing to eat better, work out more, and save more money. But we might consider adding to this list the resolution to protect our hearing.
In 2016, we saw an abundance of reports regarding the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has alerted us that billions of individuals are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise volumes at work, at home, and at play.
We also discovered that even teens are at risk, as the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 90s.
The bottom line is that our hearing can be damaged at work, while attending live shows, and even at home through the use of earbuds and headphones played at elevated volumes.
For 2017, let’s all get started on the right track by making some simple resolutions to protect and conserve our hearing health.
1. Know how loud is too loud
First, how loud is too loud, and how can you know when your hearing is at risk?
To start with, sound is measured in units called decibels. As the decibel level increases, the intensity of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing injury.
Here’s a list of sounds with their matching decibel levels. Note that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with continual exposure.
- Whisper in a tranquil library – 30 decibels (dB)
- Normal conversation – 60 dB
- City traffic – 85 dB
- Jackhammer at 50 feet – 95 dB
- Motorcycle – 100 dB
- MP3 player at max volume – 100+ dB
- Power saw at three feet – 110 dB
- Loud rock concert – 115 dB
- 12-Gauge Shotgun Blast – 165 dB
Remember that with the decibel scale, a 10 dB increase is perceived by the human ear as being twice as loud. This means that a rock concert at 110 dB is 32 times louder than a normal conversation at 60 dB.
2. Safeguard your ears
Hearing damage is influenced by three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the period of time exposed to the sound, and 3) the distance between your ears and the sound source.
That means, in general, there are three ways you can guard against hearing injury from exposure to loud noise:
- Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by decreasing the volume on an mp3 player).
- Limit the time of exposure to the noise either by avoiding it or by taking rest breaks.
- Increase the distance from the sound source as much as possible (e.g. not standing directly in front of the speakers during a rock concert).
Here are some other tips to protect your hearing:
- Make use of the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a handheld device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the maximum volume.
- Talk to your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk profession.
- Wear hearing protection at noisy venues and during loud activities. Budget friendly foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and custom made earplugs are available from your local hearing specialist.
- Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block exterior sound so you can listen to the music at lower volumes.
- Purchase musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that decreases volume without creating the dull sound of foam earplugs.
3. Know the signs of hearing loss
Hearing loss occurs when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. Below are a few of the signs of hearing damage to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, also called tinnitus.
- The feeling of “fullness” in your ears.
- Difficulty comprehending speech, where everything sounds muffled.
Those are a few of the signs of hearing damage directly after exposure. Here are the signs of permanent hearing loss:
- Asking other people to repeat themselves frequently, or regularly misunderstanding what people are saying.
- Having trouble following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
- Turning the TV or radio volume up to the point where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
- Having difficulty hearing on the phone.
Most often, your friends or family members will be the first to detect your hearing loss. It’s easy to brush this off, but in our experience, if someone is told they have hearing loss by a family member, chances are good that they do.
4. Get a hearing test
Finally, it’s vital to get a hearing test, for a couple of reasons. One, if your hearing is normal, you can not only tell others that your hearing is fine, you’ll also establish a baseline to contrast future hearing tests.
Second, if the hearing test does reveal hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care professional to identify the optimal hearing plan, which usually includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern technology, you can recover your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.