It’s the New Year, which for most of us means pledging to eat better, work out more, and save more money. But we might consider adding to this list the resolution to preserve our hearing.
In 2016, we read countless reports about the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of people are at risk from exposure to loud noise levels 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 truth is that our hearing can be damaged at work, while attending concerts, and even at home via the use of earbuds and headphones played at elevated volumes.
This year, let’s all start off on the right track by making some basic resolutions to protect and conserve our hearing health.
1. Know how loud is too loud
First of all, how loud is too loud, and how can you know when your hearing is at risk?
To begin with, sound is measured in units called decibels. As the decibel level rises, the intensity of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing damage.
Here’s a list of sounds with their corresponding decibel levels. Note that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with ongoing 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 two times as loud. That means that a rock concert at 110 dB is 32 times louder than a normal conversation at 60 dB.
2. Protect your ears
Hearing damage is dependent upon three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the period of time subjected 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 direct exposure to loud noise:
- Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by lowering 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).
Below are some other tips to protect your hearing:
- Employ the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a portable device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the maximum volume.
- Check with 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. Inexpensive foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and custom earplugs are available from your local hearing specialist.
- Purchase noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block external sound so you can listen to the music at lower volumes.
- Purchase musicians plugs, a special kind of earplug that reduces volume without generating the muffled sound of foam earplugs.
3. Know the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
Hearing loss occurs when the nerve cells of the inner ear are injured. The following are a few of the signs of hearing damage to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, also referred to as tinnitus.
- The feeling of “fullness” in your ears.
- Difficulty understanding speech, where everything sounds muffled.
Those are a few of the signs of hearing damage immediately after exposure. Here are the signs of permanent hearing loss:
- Asking others to repeat themselves frequently, or frequently misinterpretation what people are saying.
- Having difficulty following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words and phrases.
- Turning the television or radio volume up to the point where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
- Having difficulty hearing on the phone.
Generally, your friends or family members will be the first to notice your hearing loss. It’s easy to brush this off, but in our experience, if somebody is told they have hearing loss by a family member, chances are good that they do.
4. Get your hearing tested
Last, it’s critical 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 indicate hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care professional to determine the most appropriate hearing plan, which typically includes hearing aids. And with modern technology, you can restore your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.