It’s the New Year, which for the majority of us means pledging to eat better, work out 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 about 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 at play.
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 90s.
The truth is that our hearing can be harmed at work, while attending live shows, 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 preserve 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 begin 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 injury.
Here’s a list of sounds with their matching decibel levels. Bear in mind that anything above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with persistent 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
Remember that with the decibel scale, a 10 dB increase is perceived by the human ear as being two times as loud. This 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 on 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, generally speaking, 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 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 much as possible (for example, 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.
- Consult your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk occupation.
- Wear hearing protection at loud venues and during loud activities. Inexpensive foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and customized earplugs are available from your local hearing professional.
- Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block exterior sound so you can listen to the music at reduced volumes.
- Purchase musicians plugs, a special kind 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 injured. Here are a few of the signs of hearing damage to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, referred to as tinnitus.
- The sensation 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 long-term hearing loss:
- Asking others to repeat themselves frequently, or frequently misunderstanding what people are saying.
- Having difficulty 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 constantly mumbling.
- Having trouble hearing on the phone.
Typically, 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 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 important to obtain a hearing test, for two 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 assess future hearing tests.
Second, if the hearing test does show hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care professional to identify the appropriate hearing plan, which usually includes hearing aids. And with modern day technology, you can recover your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.