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

It’s the New Year, which for the majority 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 a large number of reports regarding 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 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 live shows, and even at home through the use of earbuds and headphones played at elevated volumes.

For 2017, 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 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 increases, the intensity of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing injury.

Here’s a list of sounds with their corresponding decibel levels. Note that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with repeated 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 max 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 two times as loud. Which 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 period of time subjected 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 injury from direct exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by turning down 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 (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 portable device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the max volume.
  • Consult your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk occupation.
  • Wear hearing protection at noisy venues and during loud activities. Inexpensive foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and customized 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 lower volumes.
  • Purchase musicians plugs, a special kind of earplug that decreases volume without producing the muffled 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. Below are a few of the signs of hearing loss to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, otherwise known as tinnitus.
  • The sensation of “fullness” in your ears.
  • Difficulty understanding speech, where everything sounds muffled.

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

  • Asking others to repeat themselves often, or regularly 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 level where others notice.
  • Thinking that other people are constantly mumbling.
  • Having difficulty hearing on the phone.

Most frequently, your friends or family members 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 your hearing tested

Finally, it’s critical to get 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 contrast future hearing tests.

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