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

It’s the New Year, which for most of us means pledging to eat better, exercise more, and save more money. But we might consider adding to this list the resolution to protect our hearing.

In 2016, we saw an abundance of reports about the escalating epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has alerted us that billions of people are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise levels at work, at home, and during leisure activities.

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 1990s.

The truth 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.

This year, let’s all get started on the right track by making some basic resolutions to protect and preserve 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 increases, the intensity of the sound increases together with the risk of hearing injury.

Here’s a list of sounds with their affiliated decibel levels. Bear in mind that anything above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with persistent 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

Remember 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, generally speaking, there are three ways you can guard against hearing damage from direct exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by turning down 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 much as possible (e.g. not standing directly in front of the speakers during a rock concert).

The following 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.
  • Use hearing protection at loud locations and during loud activities. Inexpensive foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and customized earplugs are available from your local hearing professional.
  • Purchase noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block outside sound so you can listen to the music at decreased volumes.
  • Purchase musicians plugs, a special kind of earplug that reduces volume without producing the muffled 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. Here 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 sensation of “fullness” in your ears.
  • Difficulty comprehending speech, where everything sounds muffled.

Those are a few 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 constantly misunderstanding what people are saying.
  • Having trouble 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 trouble hearing on the phone.

Most often, your friends or family members will be the first to observe 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 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 evaluate future hearing tests.

Second, if the hearing test does indicate hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care expert to identify the the best hearing plan, which usually includes hearing aids. And with today’s technology, you can restore your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.

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