It’s the New Year, which for the majority of us means pledging to eat better, work out more, and save more money. But we might want to add to this list the resolution to preserve our hearing.
In 2016, we saw a large number of reports regarding the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of individuals are at risk from exposure to loud noise levels at work, at home, and during leisure activities.
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 compromised 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 basic resolutions to protect and preserve 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 begin with, sound is measured in units called decibels. As the decibel level rises, the intensity level of the sound increases together with the risk of hearing injury.
Here’s a list of sounds with their corresponding decibel levels. Keep in mind that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with prolonged 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
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. Safeguard your ears
Hearing damage is dependent on three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the length of time exposed to the sound, and 3) the distance between your ears and the sound source.
That implies that, in general, there are three ways you can guard 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 (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 with 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. Low-cost foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and custom made earplugs are available from your local hearing specialist.
- Purchase noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block external sound so you can listen to the music at lower volumes.
- Invest in musicians plugs, a special kind of earplug that reduces volume without creating the dull 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 damaged. Below are some of the signs of hearing loss to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, also called tinnitus.
- The sensation 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 other people to repeat themselves often, or regularly misinterpretation what people are saying.
- Having trouble following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words and phrases.
- Turning the TV or radio volume up to the point where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are constantly mumbling.
- Having difficulty hearing on the phone.
Generally, 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 your hearing tested
Finally, it’s important to get a hearing test, for two 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 with your hearing care professional to determine the most effective hearing plan, which typically includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern technology, you can recover your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.