Hearing Health and How To Protect Yours
- How Hearing Damage Can Occur
- Aging, Genetics, and Health Complications
- Occupational Noise
- Recreational Exposure to High Sound Pressure Levels
- Loudness Levels of Common Sounds
- What You Can Do To Preserve Your Hearing
Our sense of hearing is one of our most precious senses, allowing us to communicate, enjoy music, and connect with the world around us. However, our hearing is also delicate and can be easily damaged by exposure to loud noises, among other factors. In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of hearing health and provide tips on how to protect your hearing from damage.
It is far more serious than most people realize that hearing health is a problem that is frequently ignored. In the US, one in eight people over the age of 12 have hearing loss in both ears, and one in three Americans between the ages of 65 and 75 have hearing loss.
How Hearing Damage Can Occur
Hearing damage is divided into three main categories:
- Conductive hearing loss (affects the middle and outer ears)
- Inner ear damage is known as sensorineural hearing loss
- A combination of the two types of hearing damage
Let’s first examine how we perceive sound in order to comprehend how hearing damage can happen:
As sound travels through the atmosphere as a wave, the surrounding atmosphere is disturbed. We are able to detect these changes in air pressure, which pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations in the eardrum. These vibrations are boosted by tiny bones at the eardrum, which causes them to move farther to the inner ear.
Here, these vibrations travel through fluid suspended in the cochlea, a snail-shaped organ in our inner ear. Thousands of tiny hairs attached to nerve cells inside the cochlea react to vibrations (like tall grass in the wind) and transform them into electrical signals that our brain can understand as sound.
A number of things can cause hearing loss or damage, including:
Inner ear damage: The cochlea’s hairs become damaged with age and exposure to loud noises, making it impossible for them to accurately transmit electrical signals to our brain because they are either broken or missing.
Earwax buildup: Earwax buildup can easily reduce or completely prevent sound waves from passing through your ear canal.
Ear infection & other illnesses: Although some illnesses and medications can affect your hearing health, an ear infection can temporarily impair your hearing.
Ruptured eardrum: A ruptured eardrum can result in immediate, irreversible hearing loss or total deafness. This may be brought on by abrupt pressure changes, unforeseen exposure to loud noises, or an unwanted object getting stuck in your ear canal.
In addition to the aforementioned risk factors, the following risk factors can raise your likelihood of developing hearing damage or loss:
Aging, Genetics, and Health Complications
Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to prevent this from happening as we age other than to be mindful of our hearing when we are around loud noises. As we age, we typically lose our ability to understand speech in higher frequency bands. Additionally, hereditary hearing problems can occur, and once more, there is little that can be done to treat such loss of hearing.
This kind of hearing loss can happen at various stages, with varying degrees of severity, and throughout our lives. As a long-term effect of certain illnesses and medications, hearing loss is a potential side effect.
You will undoubtedly suffer from some hearing loss or damage if you spend a lot of time working in noisy industrial settings where planes, trucks, or machinery are constantly invading your ears for long periods of time each day.
Recreational Exposure to High Sound Pressure Levels
There are risks to hearing health that is not limited to those who work in factories or airports where high sound pressure levels are present all the time. You are equally at risk of developing hearing health problems over time or all of a sudden if you enjoy going to louder settings for recreation, such as clubs or concerts, loud music in your car or on headphones, riding a motorcycle, or other loud environments.
Loudness Levels of Common Sounds
We must contrast dangerous sounds with common sounds in relation to the Decibel (dB), the unit of measurement for sound pressure (volume), in order to comprehend what sounds can be deemed dangerous.
The volume of common sounds is displayed in the table below in Decibels (dB) to demonstrate how your hearing health may be impacted.
|Decibel (dB)||Sound Source|
|85||Heavy Traffic, Busy Restaurant|
|110||Power Tools, Live Concert|
Naturally, the above table is not entirely accurate because, for instance, some tools are quieter than others and some motorcycles are noisier than others. Additionally, this graph is based on relatively close listening distance. But even from a distance, some of these sounds can be harmful.
The shorter the time required to seriously harm hearing, the louder the sound. The following table lists the suggested exposure times for various sound pressure levels (without hearing protection).
|Decibel (dB)||Recommended Maximum Exposure Time|
|115||15 Minutes or Less|
You might think it’s challenging to adhere to the suggested exposure times after looking at the aforementioned tables. For instance, we are exposed to sound pressure levels that are deemed dangerous for a much longer period of time when watching a live concert. Due to the constant, daily, intrusive sound pressure levels experienced in heavy industry, those who work there are also at a significantly higher risk of developing hearing issues.
What You Can Do To Preserve Your Hearing
Because it’s not always possible for us to avoid loud environments, we need to consider other precautions that can be taken to safeguard our hearing from irreversible damage.
Wearing Hearing Protection
To protect hearing health, it is essential to wear hearing protection in settings where loud noise levels are frequent, such as concerts, sporting events, firing ranges, riding a motorcycle, or in heavily industrialized areas. There are many choices, ranging from in-ear styles to robustly insulated over-ear styles.
Most hardware stores sell foam-based in-ear earplugs, which work well for light construction work but are ineffective in extremely noisy settings. They are also reasonably priced (typically less than $5 per pair), but if you are frequently exposed to loud noises, I would strongly advise investing in a quality pair of earplugs.
While they can be a little more expensive (between 20 and 40 dollars), earplugs used by musicians typically offer much greater sound reduction and are definitely worth the cost. To achieve a much higher level of sound reduction, you can also go to an ear institute and have a pair specially molded for your ear canal size and shape.
I would suggest a pair of over-ear style mufflers for heavy industry workers who must wear hearing protection for extended periods of time. They are much more comfortable than in-ear earplugs and also more effectively reduce external sound levels.
Limiting Your Volume
It’s simple to get immersed in the music and turn up the volume on your headphones, but if you do this frequently, you run the risk of permanently harming your hearing. Because of this, we advise trying to be mindful of the volume and duration of your music listening.
If you’re used to listening to music loudly, it may be beneficial to gradually reduce the volume and drop it down to 95% of your usual volume, then go down in 5% increments until you’re at a reasonable listening level. Shorter periods of louder music do less harm than extended periods do. This is due to the fact that it can be challenging to lower the volume without feeling as though you are missing some of the music.
Even though it’s simple to specify the precise decibels one should aim for, most people don’t have a good sense of what volume corresponds to what decibel reading, so this information isn’t very helpful. As a result, we advise simply analyzing your volume levels and attempting to determine how loud it is. It is usually simple to determine whether or not the volume is too loud when one is aware of it.
Having Your Hearing Tested
Regular hearing tests at an ear institute will enable you to detect hearing loss at an early stage and take the necessary precautions moving forward to avoid more severe permanent damage. Given how common earbuds are in society, it may not seem important to a young person, but it’s a good idea to get tested early on to determine whether you should be taking additional precautions or whether your current listening habits may be within safe levels.
There are some online hearing loss tests that allow users to see what frequency ranges they can hear, but these are more of a novelty and don’t really offer much insight into your hearing health. The fact that each user’s listening device is unique in these tests is one of their biggest flaws, which can always affect the outcomes. Additionally, they simply don’t cover all the bases for a legitimate hearing test. For any precise hearing tests, please consult an accredited audiologist.
Avoiding Unnecessary Risk Factors
We all like to occasionally listen to loud music in the car or while wearing headphones, attend concerts, or use power tools or lawnmowers around the house on a regular basis. Wearing hearing protection and taking regular breaks are effective ways to reduce the detrimental effects of these activities on our hearing health because we frequently enjoy them and it can be challenging to limit our exposure times.