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, work out more, and save more money. But we might want to add to this list the resolution to protect our hearing.

In 2016, we read countless reports regarding the escalating epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of individuals are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise volumes at work, at home, and during leisure activities.

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 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 elevated volumes.

This year, let’s all get started on the right track by making some simple resolutions to protect and conserve 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 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 prolonged 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
  • Music 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 two times as loud. Which means that a rock concert at 110 dB is 32 times louder than a normal conversation at 60 dB.

2. Safeguard your ears

Hearing damage is determined by 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 means, in general, 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 decreasing 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 much 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:

  • Apply the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a mobile device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the max volume.
  • Check with your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk profession.
  • Wear hearing protection at noisy venues and during loud activities. Budget friendly foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and custom 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 and symptoms of hearing loss

Hearing loss occurs when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. Here are a few of the signs of hearing loss to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus.
  • The sensation of “fullness” in your ears.
  • Difficulty understanding speech, where everything sounds muffled.

Those are a few of the signs of hearing damage directly after exposure. Here are the signs of long-term 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 TV or radio volume up to the level where others notice.
  • Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
  • Having difficulty 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 a hearing test

Last, it’s vital 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 evaluate future hearing tests.

Second, if the hearing test does show hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care expert to identify the optimal hearing plan, which typically includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern day technology, you can restore your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.