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

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

In 2016, we saw an abundance of reports about the escalating epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned 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 teenagers 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 damaged at work, while attending live shows, and even at home via the use of earbuds and headphones played at excessive volumes.

This year, 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 of all, how can you know 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 increases, the intensity of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing damage.

Here’s a list of sounds with their affiliated decibel levels. Keep in mind that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with continued 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
  • 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

Remember that with the decibel scale, a 10 dB increase is perceived by the human ear as being two times 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 upon three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the amount of time subjected 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 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:

  • Employ 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.
  • Talk to your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk occupation.
  • Wear hearing protection at loud venues and during loud activities. Inexpensive foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and customized 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 decreased volumes.
  • Invest in musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that decreases volume without creating the muffled sound of foam earplugs.

3. Know the warning signs of hearing loss

Hearing loss occurs when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. The following are some of the signs of hearing damage 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 understanding speech, where everything sounds muffled.

Those are a few of the signs of hearing damage immediately after exposure. Here are the signs of permanent hearing loss:

  • Asking other people to repeat themselves often, or constantly misunderstanding what people are saying.
  • Having difficulty following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
  • Turning the TV or radio volume up to the point where others notice.
  • Thinking that other people are always 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 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 vital to obtain 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 contrast future hearing tests.

Second, if the hearing test does reveal hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care professional to select the ideal hearing plan, which usually includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern technology, you can recover your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.

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