By Jenny Groth
Director, Audiology Communications for GN Hearing
1) Avoid loud environments
Probably the most obvious, but clearly the best way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss is to keep away from loud noises and loud environments (at work, school, or home) when you can.
Damage to hearing occurs over time, as the total exposure to loud sound builds up. Or it can happen with a one-time, intense burst of sound. According to the National Institutes of Health, hearing loss can happen with sounds at or above 85 dB.
For some perspective, a normal conversation is 60dB; busy traffic or a lawn mower is 85dB to 100 dB; a firecracker or plane takeoff is 120dB; a shotgun blast is 170+ dB.
Generally, sound may be loud enough to contribute to damaging your hearing if:
- you have to raise your voice to talk to other people,
- you can’t hear what people nearby are saying,
- it hurts your ears,
- you have ringing in your ears or muffled hearing afterwards.
There are helpful Apps, such as SoundPrint, that have a decibel -meter to measure noise levels and this provides an easy way to determine whether your surroundings might be putting your hearing at risk.
2) Be careful at work
If you’re continually exposed to loud noises in your work environment, you should have a conversation with your manager or HR representative, as an employer should be prepared to make changes that reduce or protect you from elevated noise levels. Those could include:
- Providing hearing protection, such as noise reduction ear muffs or earplugs (just be sure to wear that protection!)
- Arranging your schedule and activities to help long-term exposure to loud sounds
- Making adjustments to or replacing equipment or tools that produce loud sounds
3) Protect your hearing during loud events and activities
Large-scale gatherings such as in bars and nightclubs, concerts and sporting events put your hearing at risk.
- Distance yourself from sources of loud noises (such as speakers)
- Every 15 minutes, try to give your ears a break from the noise by finding a quieter place in the venue
- Give your hearing around 18 to 24 hours to recover after exposure to lots of loud noise
- Consider wearing earplugs – you can buy re-usable musicians’ earplugs that reduce the volume of music but don’t muffle it
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4) Turn down the music!
Of course, when listening to live music at concerts you should be wearing quality ear protection. But listening to loud music through earphones and headphones is one of the biggest dangers to your hearing.
To help avoid damaging your hearing with your headphones on:
- turn the volume up just enough so you can hear your music comfortably, but no higher
- don’t listen to music at more than 60% of the maximum volume – some devices have settings you can use to limit the volume automatically
- don’t use earphones or headphones for more than an hour at a time – take a break for at least 5 minutes every hour
Even just turning down the volume a little bit can make a big difference to your risk of hearing damage.
5) Get your hearing tested
If you think you are experiencing a decline in your hearing (or you see yourself turning up the TV volume or are consistently asking people to repeat themselves), it’s a great idea to get a hearing test.
ReSound offers a free online screening that’s a quick way to gauge how well you’re hearing. In only 3 minutes, you can test your ability to distinguish certain words and numbers in a noisy environment.
Just like it is recommended to get your eyes checked on a regular basis, yearly hearing checks are also a good idea. This is especially important if you’re at a higher risk for hearing loss due to favorite activities (hunting, music, sports) or your work environment (construction, airport worker, etc).
Many people put off getting their hearing tested. Perhaps it’s because they don’t want to admit to having hearing loss, or not believing it is serious enough to merit help. The fact is that most, if not all of us, will have some decline in hearing and many people who do not seek help are missing out.
Knowing that your hearing may be suffering, you can take steps to prevent further decline. The sooner any hearing loss is picked up, the sooner you can do something about it.