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

It’s the New Year, which for most of us means vowing 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 read countless reports about the expanding epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has alerted us that billions of people are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise volumes at work, at home, and at play.

We also discovered 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 harmed 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 get started 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 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 rises, the intensity of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing injury.

Here’s a list of sounds with their affiliated decibel levels. Remember that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially harm 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 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 influenced 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 means, 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:

  • Apply 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.
  • Check with 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 professional.
  • Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block exterior sound so you can listen to the music at lower volumes.
  • Purchase 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 results when the nerve cells of the inner ear are injured. Here are a few of the signs of hearing damage to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, also referred to as tinnitus.
  • The feeling 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 other people to repeat themselves frequently, or frequently misunderstanding what people are saying.
  • Having difficulty following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words and phrases.
  • Turning the TV or radio volume up to the level where others notice.
  • Thinking that other people are constantly mumbling.
  • Having difficulty hearing on the phone.

Quite 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 somebody is told they have hearing loss by a family member, chances are good that they do.

4. Get a hearing test

Last, 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 evaluate future hearing tests.

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

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