Image of a notebook with the text 2017 New Year’s Resolution

It’s the New Year, which for the majority of us means resolving to eat better, work out more, and save more money. But we might consider adding to this list the resolution to preserve our hearing.

In 2016, we read countless reports about the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has alerted us that billions of individuals are at risk from exposure to loud noise levels at work, at home, and at play.

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 truth is that our hearing can be compromised 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 simple resolutions to protect and preserve 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 increases, the intensity level of the sound increases along 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 harm your hearing with continued 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

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 dependent on three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the period of time subjected 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 damage from direct exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by turning down 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 (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 handheld device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the max volume.
  • Consult your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk profession.
  • Use hearing protection at loud locations and during loud activities. Low-cost foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and custom made earplugs are available from your local hearing specialist.
  • Purchase noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block outside sound so you can listen to the music at lower volumes.
  • Invest in musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that decreases volume without producing 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 a few of the signs of hearing damage to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, which is stands for tinnitus.
  • The feeling of “fullness” in your ears.
  • Difficulty understanding 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 other people to repeat themselves frequently, or frequently misinterpretation what people are saying.
  • Having difficulty following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words and phrases.
  • Turning the TV or radio volume up to the point 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 someone 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 get a hearing test, for a couple of 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 together with your hearing care expert to select the the best hearing plan, which usually includes hearing aids. And with today’s technology, you can recover your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.