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McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

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, exercise more, and save more money. But we might want to add to this list the resolution to protect our hearing.

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

We also discovered 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 damaged at work, while attending concerts, and even at home through the use of earbuds and headphones played at elevated volumes.

This year, 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, 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 of the sound increases together with the risk of hearing damage.

Here’s a list of sounds with their affiliated decibel levels. Note 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 twice as loud. Which 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 dependent on 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, generally speaking, there are three ways you can protect against hearing damage from direct exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by decreasing the volume on an mp3 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).

Below 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 maximum volume.
  • Talk to your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk profession.
  • Wear hearing protection at noisy locations and during loud activities. Inexpensive foam earplugs are available 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 reduced volumes.
  • Purchase musicians plugs, a special kind of earplug that decreases volume without producing the dull sound of foam earplugs.

3. Know the 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 comprehending 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 others to repeat themselves frequently, or constantly misunderstanding what people are saying.
  • Having difficulty following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
  • Turning the television or radio volume up to the point where others notice.
  • Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
  • Having difficulty 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 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 obtain 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 with your hearing care expert to determine the optimal hearing plan, which typically includes hearing aids. And with today’s technology, you can restore your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.