It’s the New Year, which for most 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 expanding epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of individuals are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise levels at work, at home, and during leisure activities.
We also discovered that even teenagers are at risk, as the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1990s.
The bottom line is that our hearing can be harmed at work, while attending concerts, and even at home via the use of earbuds and headphones played at excessive volumes.
For 2017, let’s all get started on the right track by making some basic resolutions to protect and maintain 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. Note that anything above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with continued 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. Safeguard your ears
Hearing damage is influenced by three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the length of time subjected to the sound, and 3) the distance between your ears and the sound source.
That means, generally speaking, there are three ways you can protect against hearing damage from exposure to loud noise:
- Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by turning down 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 far 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 handheld device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the maximum volume.
- Consult your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk profession.
- Wear hearing protection at loud locations and during loud activities. Budget friendly foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and customized earplugs are available from your local hearing professional.
- Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block external sound so you can listen to the music at reduced volumes.
- Invest in musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that decreases volume without producing the dull sound of foam earplugs.
3. Know the signs of hearing loss
Hearing loss results when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. Below are a few of the signs of hearing loss to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, which is stands for 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 directly after exposure. Here are the signs of long-term hearing loss:
- Asking others to repeat themselves often, or frequently misunderstanding what people are saying.
- Having trouble following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words and phrases.
- Turning the TV or radio volume up to the level where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
- Having difficulty 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 somebody is told they have hearing loss by a family member, chances are good that they do.
4. Get a hearing test
Finally, it’s important to obtain a hearing test, for two 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 assess future hearing tests.
Second, if the hearing test does display hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care professional to choose the appropriate 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.