Image of a notebook with the text 2017 New Year’s Resolution

It’s the New Year, which for many 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 preserve our hearing.

In 2016, we saw an abundance 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 levels at work, at home, and at play.

We also found out that even teenagers 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 damaged 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 begin with, sound is measured in units called decibels. As the decibel level increases, 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. Note that any sound 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
  • Music player at max 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. 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 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 implies that, in general, there are three ways you can guard against hearing injury from exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by lowering the volume on a music player).
  2. Limit the time of exposure to the noise either by avoiding it or by taking rest breaks.
  3. 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:

  • Employ the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a portable 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. Budget friendly foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and custom made 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 kind of earplug that decreases volume without generating the dull sound of foam earplugs.

3. Know the warning signs of hearing loss

Hearing loss results when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. Below are some of the signs of hearing damage to look for immediately 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 a few 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 trouble following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
  • 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 someone is told they have hearing loss by a family member, chances are good that they do.

4. Get your hearing tested

Last, it’s critical to obtain a hearing test, for a couple of 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 assess future hearing tests.

Second, if the hearing test does display hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care expert to choose the optimal hearing plan, which typically includes hearing aids. And with modern technology, you can recover your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.

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