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

It’s the New Year, which for many of us means vowing 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 regarding the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of people are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise levels 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 1990s.

The truth is that our hearing can be injured 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 simple resolutions to protect and preserve 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 damage.

Here’s a list of sounds with their matching decibel levels. Note that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with continuous 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

Remember that with the decibel scale, a 10 dB increase is perceived by the human ear as being twice as loud. This 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 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 means, in general, there are three ways you can guard against hearing damage from exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by lowering 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 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 max volume.
  • Check with your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk profession.
  • Wear hearing protection at loud venues and during loud activities. Inexpensive foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and custom earplugs are available from your local hearing specialist.
  • Purchase noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block outside sound so you can listen to the music at reduced volumes.
  • Purchase musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that reduces volume without producing the dull sound of foam earplugs.

3. Know the signs and symptoms 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 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 permanent hearing loss:

  • Asking others to repeat themselves frequently, or regularly 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 always mumbling.
  • Having difficulty hearing on the phone.

Most frequently, your family members or friends will be the first to notice 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

Finally, it’s vital to obtain a hearing test, for two 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 compare future hearing tests.

Second, if the hearing test does reveal hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care professional to choose the ideal 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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