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 saw an abundance of reports about the expanding epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of people 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 90s.
The bottom line is that our hearing can be compromised at work, while attending live shows, 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 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 together with the risk of hearing damage.
Here’s a list of sounds with their corresponding decibel levels. Remember that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially harm 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 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. Which 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 period of time exposed 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 damage 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 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:
- Utilize the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a mobile 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 specialist.
- 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 type of earplug that reduces volume without producing the muffled 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 damage to look for directly 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 other people to repeat themselves frequently, or constantly misunderstanding what people are saying.
- Having trouble following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
- Turning the television or radio volume up to the level where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
- Having trouble hearing on the phone.
Most frequently, 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
Finally, it’s critical to obtain 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 assess future hearing tests.
Second, if the hearing test does display hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care professional to identify the most appropriate hearing plan, which usually includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern day technology, you can recover your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.