It’s the New Year, which for most of us means pledging 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 a large number of reports regarding 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 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 truth is that our hearing can be damaged at work, while attending live shows, and even at home via the use of earbuds and headphones played at elevated volumes.
For 2017, let’s all start off on the right track by making some basic 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 start with, sound is measured in units called decibels. As the decibel level rises, the intensity level of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing damage.
Here’s a list of sounds with their matching decibel levels. Remember that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with continual 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
- MP3 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 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. Safeguard 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 protect against hearing injury from direct 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).
Here are some other tips to protect your hearing:
- Employ the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a handheld 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 occupation.
- Use hearing protection at loud venues and during loud activities. Low-cost 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 external sound so you can listen to the music at decreased volumes.
- Purchase musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that reduces volume without creating 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. Here are some of the signs of hearing loss to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus.
- The sensation 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 others to repeat themselves often, or frequently misinterpretation what people are saying.
- Having difficulty following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words and phrases.
- Turning the television or radio volume up to the point where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
- Having difficulty hearing on the phone.
Quite often, your friends or family members will be the first to detect 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
Finally, it’s critical to get 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 compare future hearing tests.
Second, if the hearing test does display hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care professional to select the ideal hearing plan, which typically includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern-day technology, you can restore your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.