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, exercise more, and save more money. But we might consider adding to this list the resolution to protect our hearing.

In 2016, we saw a large number of reports about the escalating epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has alerted us that billions of people are at risk from exposure to loud noise levels at work, at home, and during leisure activities.

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

This year, let’s all start off on the right track by making some basic resolutions to protect and maintain 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. Bear in mind that anything above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with prolonged 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 max 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 determined by three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the amount of time exposed to the sound, and 3) the distance between your ears and the sound source.

That means, generally speaking, there are three ways you can guard against hearing damage from direct exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by lowering 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 far as possible (e.g. not standing directly in front of the speakers during a rock concert).

Below are some other tips to protect your hearing:

  • Employ 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 occupation.
  • Use hearing protection at loud venues and during loud activities. Budget friendly foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and custom made earplugs are available from your local hearing professional.
  • Invest in 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 decreases volume without generating the muffled 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 injured. The following are a few of the signs of hearing loss to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus.
  • The feeling of “fullness” in your ears.
  • Difficulty understanding 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 others to repeat themselves often, or frequently misunderstanding what people are saying.
  • Having trouble 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.

Most often, your family members or friends will be the first to detect 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

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 compare future hearing tests.

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