It’s the New Year, which for many of us means vowing 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 a large number of reports about 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 discovered that even teens 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 injured 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 start off on the right track by making some basic resolutions to protect and conserve 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 rises, the intensity of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing damage.
Here’s a list of sounds with their affiliated decibel levels. Bear in mind that anything above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with continuous 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. 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 determined by three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the amount 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 protect against hearing injury from direct exposure to loud noise:
- Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by decreasing 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.
- Consult with your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk occupation.
- Use hearing protection at noisy locations and during loud activities. Budget friendly foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and customized 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 lower volumes.
- Purchase musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that decreases volume without producing the dull sound of foam earplugs.
3. Know the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
Hearing loss results when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. Here are a few of the signs of hearing damage to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, also referred to as tinnitus.
- The feeling 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 long-term hearing loss:
- Asking other people to repeat themselves often, or regularly misunderstanding what people are saying.
- Having trouble following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
- Turning the TV or radio volume up to the level where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are constantly mumbling.
- Having difficulty hearing on the phone.
Quite often, your family members or friends 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 a hearing test
Last, it’s important to get 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 evaluate future hearing tests.
Second, if the hearing test does indicate hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care professional to determine the appropriate hearing plan, which typically includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern technology, you can recover your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.