How can I protect my hearing?
When it comes to preventing hearing loss, there are many simple protective measures we can take to maintain hearing and the quality of life that comes with experiencing a full-spectrum of sound. Hearing loss can occur at any age for a variety of reasons, but the most common cause is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which results from repeated and/or extended exposures to loud noises. Once exposure to dangerous sound levels has occurred, the hearing loss that results is irreversible. It can also occur from a one time blast or explosion of sound. Taking steps in your day-to-day lifestyle to protect hearing can hugely impact your auditory system’s ability to experience sound late into life.
- Identify and Understand Dangerous Sound Levels Dangerous sound levels are all around us and often unavoidable. With all the loud technologies we have today; jet engines, amplifiers, car horns, earbuds, and buzz saws, to name just a few, virtually everyone faces daily exposure to damaging levels of noise. The volume of sound produced in a normal conversation is about 60 decibels (dB), and a chainsaw produces volume levels upwards of 120 dB. Any levels at or above 85 dB can inflict hearing damage.
Use your voice as a reference point to determine whether or not you are being exposed to dangerous sound. Since you need not raise your voice above 60 dB in normal conversation, if you need to speak louder in order to be heard over background noise, chances are that background noise is at least approaching a dangerous level. Sounds that produce physical pain in your ears, such as a gunshot or a fog horn, represent the extreme end of the spectrum where loudness levels are almost guaranteed to damage hearing.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you identify dangerous sound before it can inflict lasting damage.
- Understand Exposure Another important step towards avoiding NIHL and protecting your hearing is to educate yourself on how much sound exposure is too much. The volume of sound and amount of time a person is exposed to a noise are the main factors determining the level of risk in exposure to excessive sound. By increasing your awareness, you will be better equipped to protect your hearing when loud noise presents risk. Studies on exposure to various decibel levels show that dangerous sound at the lower end of the spectrum (85 dB) can cause damage after eight hours of continuous exposure. At 91 dB, only a slight increase in volume, lasting damage can occur in just two hours of continuous exposure. At a typical rock concert where the volume is around 115 dB, lasting damage can occur in just 30 seconds of continuous exposure, and hearing damage occurs instantaneously at levels of 140 dB and higher.
- Limit your Exposure to Loud Noises Once you understand how exposure to sound can be damaging even at relatively low volume levels, the next step towards protecting hearing becomes clear–limit your exposure to loud noises. There are many common sense solutions to limiting your exposure. To name just a few, you can wear earplugs at rock shows, stand further away from amplifiers, turn down the volume on your mp3 player, and roll up your car windows when in traffic or when passing construction zones.
In our modern world, it is impossible to completely avoid excessive sound, but limiting irreversible hearing damage is well within everyone’s reach. Exposure to dangerous sound levels is a part of life. To best protect your hearing, next time you find yourself in an environment where exposure to loud noises is unavoidable, remember these three things:
- Wear ear protection
- Walk away from the noise
- Turn down the volume