How to Prevent Yourself from Going Deaf
There’s good news and there’s bad news – and it happens to be the same news: the majority of hearing impairments were preventable, and hence the majority of future hearing problems are preventable. So before you become another unfortunate statistic, see what you can do today to prevent losing your hearing down the road.
Why is loud noise bad for your hearing?
When we are exposed to noises that are too loud and last too long, the tiny sensory hair cells in our inner ears take a beating. Eventually, when the damage to these cells becomes too great, the result is noise-induced-hearing-loss (NIHL). According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, as many as one in five American teenagers are already demonstrating hearing loss to some degree – a number higher than ever before. Internationally, it is estimated that 12.5% of children and adolescents have already experienced permanent damage to their hearing from overexposure to loud noise. Hearing loss in teenagers has risen 30% in the last 20 years. And the European Commission has stated that as much as 10% of 30-year-olds may require the help of a hearing aid within the next decade as a result of listening to music through their headphones at unsafe volumes.
Why are we going deaf earlier than ever before?
Back in the day, the most common cause of hearing problems was working in a noisy environment such as a factory or in construction. These days we have far stricter health and safety rules, so we should technically be experiencing a decrease in NIHL (noise induced hearing loss). The culprit? Along with the advancement of health and safety policies came the advancement of technology. And with that came speakers, and headphones, and MP3 players, and basically the ability to listen to music really loudly, whenever and wherever, for extended periods of time. It’s now recreational noise that is the primary cause of NIHL. Unfortunately, whereas those who were exposed to high levels of environmental noise in the work place years ago were already adults, those listening to loud music at parties and on their headphones these days include teenagers and even some older children. The result is the onset of NIHL from a much younger age, and far more frequently. Sadly, noise-related hearing loss is most often irreversible.
How is sound measured?
The units in which sound is measured are called decibels (dB). The scale begins at zero, with noise at this level being equal to the weakest sound audible to the human ear. A whisper ranks at about 30 decibels, a regular conversation at 60, and the noise made by an ambulance siren at 120.
Here’s a guide to some typical noise levels (measured in decibels, or dB). The higher the number, the louder the noise:
- A busy street: 75-85dB
- Heavy traffic: 85dB
- Hand drill: 98dB
- Motorbikes: 100dB
- Nightclub: 110dB
- MP3 player on loud: 112dB
- Chainsaw: 115-120dB
- Rock concert: 120dB
How loud is TOO loud?
The effect of noise on your hearing depends on two variables, namely; how loud the sound is, and for how long you are exposed it.
- A sure-fire sign that you’ve been listening for too long or at dangerous volume levels is a ringing in your ears or dull hearing afterwards.
- Another sign that noise levels may be erring on dangerous is if you are unable to talk to someone two metres away from you without shouting.
How long should we listen for exactly?
Volumes of only a few decibels higher may be exponentially more dangerous. For every three decibels, sound energy is doubled and the length of safe listening time is halved. Fifteen minutes of noise a week at 105 decibels or more can cause permanent damage. However, being exposed to lower levels of noise, say between 85 and 90 decibels for a few hours every day can cause just as much damage.
Specifically, you should not:
- Be exposed to sound at volumes of 85 decibels or higher for any longer than eight hours at one time.
- Be exposed to sound at volumes of 88 decibels or higher for any longer than four hours at one time.
Essentially, lowering the level of noise only marginally makes a large difference to the period of time it’s safe to listen for.
What can we do now to help ourselves later?
It all begins with awareness. It’s vital to know how much loud sound you are exposed to. If you are exposed to too much, it’s advisable to embark on a ‘noise diet’. This could save you from poor hearing (or worse) down the line. Practically, a ‘noise diet’ entails giving your ears some quiet time after they have been exposed to high volumes of noise. A person requires a minimum of 16 hours of rest in order for our ears to recover after spending roughly 120 minutes exposed to 100dB sound. According to Deafness Research UK, as the recovery time a person allows their ears decreases, the risk of permanent damage increases.
Invest in the future you, with these 10 tips for smart listening:
2) Put distance in between you and the source of the noise (for example very loud speakers).
3) When listening to music through headphones, ensure you can hear external sounds. If you can’t, it’s too loud.
4) Use your MP3 player’s ‘smart volume’ feature – it’s called that for a reason.
5) With your music at 60% of your MP3 player’s full volume, don’t listen for any longer than an hour.
6) Choose noise-cancelling, over ear headphones, as they help to block out noise and allow for better listening at lower volumes.
7) If the volume on your TV, radio or stereo requires you to raise your voice over it, it’s too loud. Certain earplugs, such as those from the MusicClear range, protect ears from dangerous levels of sound while retaining the clarity of the music – ideal for loud concerts or shows.
8) Wear earplugs or earmuffs when working with power tools.
9) Watch the volume of the music in the car. Being exposed to loud noises in confined spaces increases the risk of damage.
10) Spend time in silence every day. Research has shown that just 30 minutes of silence a day has significant benefits on our health.