It’s the New Year, which for many of us means pledging to eat better, work out more, and save more money. But we might consider adding to this list the resolution to protect our hearing.
In 2016, we read countless reports about the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has alerted us that billions of people are at risk from exposure to loud noise levels 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 90s.
The bottom line is that our hearing can be injured at work, while attending concerts, 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 simple resolutions to protect and conserve 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 rises, the intensity of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing injury.
Here’s a list of sounds with their corresponding decibel levels. Bear in mind that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with prolonged 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 twice 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 period of time subjected 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 damage from direct exposure to loud noise:
- Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by lowering 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).
Here are some other tips to protect your hearing:
- Make use of the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a mobile 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 noisy venues and during loud activities. Budget friendly foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and customized earplugs are available from your local hearing specialist.
- Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block external sound so you can listen to the music at reduced volumes.
- Invest in musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that reduces volume without producing the dull sound of foam earplugs.
3. Know the signs of hearing loss
Hearing loss occurs when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. Here are some of the signs of hearing loss to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, 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 immediately after exposure. Here are the signs of long-term hearing loss:
- Asking others to repeat themselves often, or frequently misunderstanding 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 level where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are constantly mumbling.
- Having difficulty hearing on the phone.
Most 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 somebody is told they have hearing loss by a family member, chances are good that they do.
4. Get a hearing test
Finally, it’s important to obtain 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 contrast future hearing tests.
Second, if the hearing test does reveal hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care expert to identify the optimal hearing plan, which usually includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern day technology, you can restore your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.