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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 vowing 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 saw an abundance of reports about the escalating 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 at play.

We also discovered 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 bottom line is that our hearing can be damaged at work, while attending live shows, and even at home through 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 of all, how can you know 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 level of the sound increases together with the risk of hearing damage.

Here’s a list of sounds with their corresponding decibel levels. Remember that anything above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with persistent 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 twice as loud. This 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 dependent upon 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, generally speaking, 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).

Below are some other tips to protect your hearing:

  • Apply the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a handheld 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 loud locations and during loud activities. Low-cost foam earplugs are obtainable 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 kind of earplug that reduces volume without creating the muffled sound of foam earplugs.

3. Know the signs and symptoms of hearing loss

Hearing loss occurs when the nerve cells of the inner ear are injured. Below are a few of the signs of hearing damage to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, referred to as tinnitus.
  • The sensation of “fullness” in your ears.
  • Difficulty comprehending speech, where everything sounds muffled.

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

  • Asking other people to repeat themselves frequently, or frequently misunderstanding what people are saying.
  • Having difficulty following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
  • Turning the television or radio volume up to the level where others notice.
  • Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
  • Having difficulty hearing on the phone.

Generally, your family members or friends 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

Last, it’s vital to obtain a hearing test, for two reasons. One, if your hearing is normal, you can not only inform others that your hearing is fine, you’ll also establish a baseline to evaluate future hearing tests.

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