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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 pledging 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 countless reports regarding the expanding epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of individuals are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise volumes at work, at home, and during leisure activities.

We also discovered that even teens are at risk, as the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 90s.

The bottom line is that our hearing can be harmed at work, while attending concerts, and even at home via the use of earbuds and headphones played at elevated volumes.

This year, let’s all start off on the right track by making some basic resolutions to protect and conserve our hearing health.

1. Know how loud is too loud

First, how can you know 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 rises, the intensity of the sound increases together with the risk of hearing damage.

Here’s a list of sounds with their matching decibel levels. Remember that anything above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with ongoing 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
  • 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

Keep in mind that with the decibel scale, a 10 dB increase is perceived by the human ear as being two times as loud. This 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 determined by 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 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 much as possible (e.g. not standing directly in front of the speakers during a rock concert).

Here 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 maximum volume.
  • Talk to your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk profession.
  • Use hearing protection at noisy venues and during loud activities. Low-cost foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and customized earplugs are available from your local hearing professional.
  • Purchase noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block outside sound so you can listen to the music at decreased 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 damaged. Below are some of the signs of hearing loss to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, also referred to as tinnitus.
  • The sensation of “fullness” in your ears.
  • Difficulty understanding 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 other people 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 always mumbling.
  • Having difficulty hearing on the phone.

Most often, your friends or family members will be the first to observe your hearing loss. It’s easy to brush this off, but in our experience, if someone 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 evaluate future hearing tests.

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