You’ve taught your children about safety — they know to fasten their seatbelt in the car, to apply sunscreen before spending time in the sun, and to wear a helmet when skiing or biking. We have one more to add to the list — wearing earplugs in loud noise. It’s an easy habit to get into and can save your hearing!
Sunscreen is important because, although sunburned skin typically heals, the cumulative effects of sun exposure are damaging deep within the skin. With loud sounds it is even worse, because in addition to the negative cumulative effects of the noise on your hearing, the damaged tissue does not heal. This means that when you damage your hearing with noise, the loss is likely permanent.
How can you protect your hearing and the hearing of those that you love? Here are my tips.
What are the facts? Prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss. This is the level of heavy city traffic or a school cafeteria. At 105 decibels, the maximum volume of an MP3 player, some hearing loss can occur within 15 minutes. At 110 decibels, the level of a rock concert or loud sporting event, damage can occur after one minute.
The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable! Follow these tips to protect your hearing and teach others to do the same.
1. Move away: Increasing the distance between you and a loud sound diminishes its impact. Move quickly away from the sound if possible. This works well when encountering unexpected noise. Cross the street to avoid a construction site or move your seat to a quieter part of a public space.
2. Turn it down: If you have control over the source of the sound, turn it down! A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot hear someone talking next to you over the music, it is probably too loud. Decibel reader apps can help you get a feel for the right level where you can enjoy your music safely.
3. Protect your ears: If you cannot move away or turn it down, block the sound by wearing earplugs or earmuffs. Disposable earplugs are available in most drugstores and can be easily carried in a pocket or purse. Acoustic earplugs are also available, several at reasonable price points, that work well for music lovers. This article in The Hearing Review details the benefits and types of earplugs for musicians. Noise cancelling headphones can also work wonders on airplanes or other loud places like concerts and sporting events. Read about my experience with noise cancelling headphones here.
Don’t take chances with your hearing. Once your hearing is damaged, there is not yet a medical way to restore it, although places like Hearing Health Foundation and the Stanford Initiative To Cure Hearing Loss are working on a cure.
Want more information? Visit It’s A Noisy Planet, a website run by the National Institutes of Health.