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 read an abundance of reports regarding the escalating epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of people are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise levels at work, at home, and during leisure activities.
We also found out that even teenagers 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 excessive volumes.
This year, let’s all start off on the right track by making some basic resolutions to protect and preserve our hearing health.
1. Know how loud is too loud
First of all, how can you know 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 level of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing damage.
Here’s a list of sounds with their matching decibel levels. Remember that anything above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with ongoing exposure.
- Whisper in a quiet library – 30 decibels (dB)
- Normal conversation – 60 dB
- City traffic – 85 dB
- Jackhammer at 50 feet – 95 dB
- Motorcycle – 100 dB
- Music player at maximum volume – 100+ dB
- Power saw at three feet – 110 dB
- Loud rock concert – 115 dB
- 12-Gauge Shotgun Blast – 165 dB
Keep in mind 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. Safeguard your ears
Hearing damage is dependent upon three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the amount of time subjected to the sound, and 3) the distance between your ears and the sound source.
That implies that, 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 a music 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).
The following are some other tips to protect your hearing:
- Apply the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a portable device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the max volume.
- Talk to your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk occupation.
- Use hearing protection at noisy venues and during loud activities. Low-cost 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.
- Invest in musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that decreases volume without producing the dull sound of foam earplugs.
3. Know the warning signs of hearing loss
Hearing loss results when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. The following are some of the signs of hearing damage to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, referred to as tinnitus.
- The sensation of “fullness” in your ears.
- Difficulty comprehending speech, where everything sounds muffled.
Those are some of the signs of hearing damage directly after exposure. Here are the signs of permanent hearing loss:
- Asking others to repeat themselves frequently, or constantly misunderstanding what people are saying.
- Having difficulty following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
- Turning the television or radio volume up to the point where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
- Having trouble hearing on the phone.
Most often, your family members or friends will be the first to observe 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 your hearing tested
Finally, it’s important to get a hearing test, for a couple of reasons. One, if your hearing is normal, you can not only inform others that your hearing is fine, you’ll also establish a baseline to compare future hearing tests.
Second, if the hearing test does display hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care professional to choose the optimal hearing plan, which usually includes hearing aids. And with today’s technology, you can recover your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.