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

It’s the New Year, which for many of us means vowing 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 an abundance of reports about the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of people are at risk from exposure to loud noise volumes at work, at home, and at play.

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 1990s.

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

This year, let’s all get started on the right track by making some basic resolutions to protect and maintain 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 of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing injury.

Here’s a list of sounds with their corresponding decibel levels. Keep in mind that anything above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with continuous exposure.

  • Whisper in a quiet 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

Remember that with the decibel scale, a 10 dB increase is perceived by the human ear as being twice as loud. That 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 amount of time subjected 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 damage from exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by decreasing 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 much as possible (for example, not standing directly in front of the speakers during a rock concert).

The following are some other tips to protect your hearing:

  • Use the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a portable device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the maximum volume.
  • Check with your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk profession.
  • Use hearing protection at noisy venues and during loud activities. Budget friendly foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and custom made earplugs are available from your local hearing professional.
  • Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block exterior sound so you can listen to the music at decreased volumes.
  • Purchase musicians plugs, a special kind of earplug that decreases volume without creating the dull sound of foam earplugs.

3. Know the warning 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 immediately after exposure to loud sounds:

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

Those are some of the signs of hearing damage directly after exposure. Here are the signs of permanent hearing loss:

  • Asking others to repeat themselves often, or regularly misinterpretation 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 trouble hearing on the phone.

Typically, 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

Finally, it’s vital to obtain 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 assess future hearing tests.

Second, if the hearing test does reveal hearing loss, you can work with your hearing care professional to select the appropriate hearing plan, which usually includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern day technology, you can restore your hearing and enhance almost every aspect of your life.