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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, work out more, and save more money. But we might want to add to this list the resolution to preserve our hearing.

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

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 90s.

The truth is that our hearing can be compromised at work, while attending live shows, and even at home via the use of earbuds and headphones played at excessive volumes.

This year, let’s all get started on the right track by making some simple resolutions to protect and conserve our hearing health.

1. Know how loud is too loud

First, 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 increases, the intensity of the sound increases together with the risk of hearing damage.

Here’s a list of sounds with their matching decibel levels. Keep in mind that anything above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with repeated 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
  • MP3 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 influenced by three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the period of time exposed to the sound, and 3) the distance between your ears and the sound source.

That implies that, in general, there are three ways you can protect against hearing injury from exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by decreasing the volume on a music 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:

  • Use the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a portable device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the maximum volume.
  • Consult 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.
  • Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block external sound so you can listen to the music at decreased volumes.
  • Purchase musicians plugs, a special kind of earplug that reduces volume without generating 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 injured. The following are some of the signs of hearing loss to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, which is stands for tinnitus.
  • The sensation of “fullness” in your ears.
  • Difficulty comprehending speech, where everything sounds muffled.

Those are some of the signs of hearing damage immediately after exposure. Here are the signs of long-term hearing loss:

  • Asking others to repeat themselves frequently, or constantly misinterpretation 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.

Typically, 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 a hearing test

Finally, it’s important 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 evaluate future hearing tests.

Second, if the hearing test does reveal hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care expert to identify the appropriate hearing plan, which typically includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern-day technology, you can recover your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.