It’s the New Year, which for many of us means resolving to eat better, exercise more, and save more money. But we might want to add to this list the resolution to protect our hearing.
In 2016, we read an abundance of reports regarding the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of individuals are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise volumes 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 1990s.
The truth is that our hearing can be harmed at work, while attending concerts, and even at home through the use of earbuds and headphones played at excessive volumes.
For 2017, let’s all start off on the right track by making some simple resolutions to protect and maintain our hearing health.
1. Know how loud is too loud
First, 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 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. Keep in mind that anything above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with persistent 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
- 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 twice 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 influenced by three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the length of time exposed to the sound, and 3) the distance between your ears and the sound source.
That means, generally speaking, there are three ways you can guard against hearing damage 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 far 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:
- Use 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.
- 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. Low-cost foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and custom earplugs are available from your local hearing professional.
- Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block outside sound so you can listen to the music at lower volumes.
- Invest in musicians plugs, a special kind of earplug that decreases volume without creating 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 damaged. The following are a few of the signs of hearing loss to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, also known as 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 immediately after exposure. Here are the signs of long-term hearing loss:
- Asking others to repeat themselves often, or constantly misinterpretation 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.
Quite often, your friends or family members 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
Last, it’s critical 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 reveal hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care professional to identify the most suitable hearing plan, which typically includes hearing aids. And with today’s technology, you can restore your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.