Hearing loss is becoming an increasing problem among young people and the Baby Boomer generation. Although hearing damage is irreversible, the problem is preventable with a healthy dose of knowledge.
Hearing loss is caused by exposure to sounds that are too loud or continued exposure to loud noises for extended periods. In the past hearing loss was largely due to working conditions with noisy equipment. Protective gear and safety laws have made that a thing of the past. Hearing loss is now mainly caused by exposure to overly loud noises in our leisure pursuits and home environments.
The Guilty Parties
The thing with hearing loss is that we don't realize we're losing our hearing immediately. It's gradual and incremental. The sounds we hear don't have to be unpleasant or physically painful. Things like loud television, radio, traffic, neighborhood construction, and appliances all contribute to a noisy environment, and you can accumulate damage without even realizing it.
It's also important to remember that the louder the noise, the less time you should listen to it without protection. We measure sounds in decibels (db). The higher the decibel number is, the louder the noise. Experts agree that any sound below 75 db isn't likely to cause damage, but any regular prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 db will contribute to hearing damage and eventual loss.
Here's a list of typical noises and their decibel levels.
Tips to Prevent Damaging Your Hearing
1. Have a noise detox
If you are exposed to loud noise unintentionally, go on a hearing detox afterwards. You need time to let your ears recover. Give yourself a sound rest of 16 hours or more to recuperate, with at least 16 hours if you have spent 2 hours hearing 100 db.
2. Distance: Don't stand so close
If you are exposed to a loud noise try to keep your distance from it. The physically closer you are to a loud sound, the more damaging it is. Try stand at an angle from the noise, and don't be directly in front of the source of the sound.
3. Beware snorers
If you sleep next to a snorer, consider sleeping with ear plugs because loud snoring can reach 80 - 90db. Here is an article with tips for snorers.
4. Regular quiet periods
Try limit your time spent in noisy venues. If you are in a noisy location for a long time, like a conference, make sure to go outside regularly and give your ears a break from the noise.
5. The 60:60 rule
If you listen to music via headphones, avoid trying to drown out any outside noises with volume and instead consider investing in noise-cancelling headphones. Apply the 60/60 rule: set the volume at a maximum of 60% and listen for no more than 60 minutes a day.
6. Take care in the car
Music in the car is an excellent way to relieve the stress or boredom of a long commute but beware the dangers. Listening to loud music in a confined space has more of a risk of damaging your hearing than listening in a more open space.
7. Recognize harmful sound levels
Understand sound levels in your environment. Once you have learnt what is damaging, you can practice healthy hearing habits. There are even smartphone apps that measure sound for you.
Many young people engage in unhealthy hearing behavior. Be proactive in educating them so they too can have lifelong good hearing.
8. Wear protective gear
If you should have to hear loud sounds (attending a music event or doing home repairs with noisy equipment), then you should get protective gear. Cottonwool in the ears will not suffice. There are many varieties of earplugs and ear muffs available on the market. You can get wax or foam plugs, or custom made molds.
9. Give your ears a rest
Allow your ears regular breaks from over exposure to noise. Peaceful days out of the city are recommended if you live in a loud urban area.
10. Test your hearing
Schedule an appointment with a professional to learn your baseline hearing rate, for future reference. If you are diagnosed with any damage or loss, consider a hearing aid to slow down the process and seek support of professionals to establish good hearing practices.