According to the CDC, 48 million people in the U.S. have trouble hearing with one or both ears. Some hearing loss come on as we age. Noise exposure in your life is one of the biggest causes of permanent hearing loss. This is what we call noise-induced hearing loss. Inside your ears are tiny fibers called cilia. These fibers help you hear. Once noise damages the cilia, you cannot fix them. There are a few simple ways to protect your hearing and avoid hearing loss.
1. Get your hearing tested
Audiologists can perform a hearing test. Audiologists are health care professionals who diagnose and treat hearing and balance problems. According to Johns Hopkins, most adults have never had a baseline hearing test. Knowing your baseline gives your audiologist something they can compare to future results. This allows them to check for any hearing loss. You’ll find out if you have current damage. You can access to the resources to help protect against future damage.
2. Avoid loud noises when possible
How do you know what kind of noise will hurt your hearing, so you know what to avoid? First we need to know how loud certain noises are. Decibels (dB) measure the intensity of a sound wave when compared with a given level. The higher the decibel level, the louder the noise.
Hearing damage can occur with any noise over 85 dB. To put this in a real-life perspective, think of the noises you hear on a regular day, even in an hour. Now compare the decibel levels of a few common, everyday sounds to find out how “loud” 85 dB is.
- 0dB – the quietest sound a healthy human ear can hear
- 30 dB – whispering
- 60 dB – regular conversation
- 70-88 dB – traffic (Hello, rush hour!)
- 85 dB – food blender
- 90 dB – motorcycle
- 94 dB – lawnmower
- 100-110 dB – music on high volume through headphones
- 110 dB – live concert
- 130 dB – plane taking off
Noise at about 140 dB causes physical pain for most people, though it can be painful at lower levels for some.
You can download smartphone apps to measure noise levels. There are also easier and faster ways to tell if the noises you are hearing are damaging.
- Does the noise hurt your ears?
- Do you have ringing (tinnitus) in your ears or muffled hearing after the noise? (Pain or ringing may not occur until your hearing is already damaged.)
- Do you have to raise your voice to talk to others?
- Are you able to hear what people nearby are saying?
The decibel level isn’t the only factor to measure. You must also consider the length of time exposed to noise. Hearing damage can occur with any noise over 85 dB. But, the longer the noise exposure, the higher the risk and the amount of damage increases.
Any noise measuring under 85 dB does not need ear protection. But how long can you listen above that level? Your hearing is likely safe if you’re exposed to 85 dB for less than eight hours a day. This is according to Action on Hearing Loss. Hearing damage can occur in as little as 15 minutes at 100 dB, and even sooner at higher levels.
Now that you know what “too loud” is, you’ll know what to avoid when you can. If you have to yell for your friend to hear you, it’s a good time to move somewhere quieter.
3. Take precautions
What happens when you can’t avoid exposure to loud noises? There are many times when you can’t avoid loud noises. For instance, if they are part of your job, you cannot escape this.
If sound levels reach 80 dB or above at work, ask your employer for noise protection. Also ask to assess the risk to your hearing by having an audiologist perform a baseline test. The workplace isn’t the only area with potential for damaging noise levels. Household chores can cause damage, such as vacuuming (75 dB) or mowing the lawn (106 dB).
Wear protective hearing gear in all these situations. Earplugs and protective earphones are both smart choices. If you have regular exposure to damaging noise levels, you may need custom ear plugs. You can have these made by your audiologist.
You should also take precautions when you know that you’ll be at loud events or activities. These include air shows, traveling, concerts, auto racing or even hunting or shooting. These cause more hearing loss in children than loud music.
4. Protect your hearing when listening to music
Use of headphones and earbuds is not a major cause of hearing loss. Listening to your music at a loud level and for too long through them can be a cause.
The danger comes from ambient noise, which is the noise surrounding you. If you are listening to music in a crowded, noisy environment, you may turn up the sound so that you can hear better. Most MP3 players can produce sounds up to 120 dB.
Noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds may help block out much of that ambient noise. This allows you to listen at a lower volume. Custom earphone molds can also be a great alternative for musicians and music lovers. You need to be mindful of how long and how loud you are listening – the louder the volume, the shorter the time.
Don’t toss out those old headphones yet. Being aware of your environment is crucial to your safety. If you are driving or going for a run, you need to hear the noises going on around you, such as cars passing by. Noise-cancelling headphones won’t let you to pay attention to your environment.
Hearing loss is preventable. Schedule your hearing test with Sidney Sound & Hearing Services. Our hearing care experts will help you with all your hearing loss prevention needs.