It’s the New Year, which for the majority 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 preserve our hearing.
In 2016, we saw countless reports regarding the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of people are at risk from exposure to loud noise volumes at work, at home, and at play.
We also found out 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 damaged at work, while attending concerts, and even at home via the use of earbuds and headphones played at excessive volumes.
This year, let’s all get started 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 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 rises, the intensity of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing injury.
Here’s a list of sounds with their matching decibel levels. Remember that anything above 85 decibels can potentially damage 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
- 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 twice 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 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 guard against hearing injury from exposure to loud noise:
- Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by turning down 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 much 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:
- 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 max volume.
- Check with 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 custom earplugs are available from your local hearing specialist.
- Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block outside sound so you can listen to the music at decreased volumes.
- Purchase musicians plugs, a special type 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 injured. The following are some of the signs of hearing loss to look for directly 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 some of the signs of hearing damage directly after exposure. Here are the signs of permanent hearing loss:
- Asking other people to repeat themselves often, or frequently misunderstanding what people are saying.
- Having difficulty following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
- Turning the TV or radio volume up to the point where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are constantly mumbling.
- Having trouble hearing on the phone.
Most frequently, your family members or friends will be the first to detect 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 your hearing tested
Finally, it’s important to obtain a hearing test, for a couple of 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 display hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care professional to select the the best hearing plan, which typically includes the use of hearing aids. And with today’s technology, you can restore your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.