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

It’s the New Year, which for most of us means pledging to eat better, exercise more, and save more money. But we might consider adding to this list the resolution to preserve our hearing.

In 2016, we saw a large number of reports about the expanding epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has alerted us that billions of individuals are at risk from direct 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 90s.

The truth is that our hearing can be harmed 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 preserve our hearing health.

1. Know how loud is too loud

First of all, 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 level of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing injury.

Here’s a list of sounds with their corresponding decibel levels. Bear in mind that anything above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with continued 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

Keep in mind 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 on three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the length of time exposed 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 lowering 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 (e.g. not standing directly in front of the speakers during a rock concert).

Here are some other tips to protect your hearing:

  • Use the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a handheld device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the maximum volume.
  • Talk to your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk occupation.
  • Wear hearing protection at loud locations and during loud activities. Low-cost foam earplugs are obtainable at your local pharmacy, and customized 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 reduced volumes.
  • Purchase musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that decreases volume without producing the muffled sound of foam earplugs.

3. Know the signs and symptoms of hearing loss

Hearing loss results when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. The following are some of the signs of hearing loss to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, which is stands for 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 immediately after exposure. Here are the signs of long-term hearing loss:

  • Asking other people to repeat themselves frequently, or regularly misunderstanding what people are saying.
  • Having trouble following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words and phrases.
  • Turning the TV or radio volume up to the level where others notice.
  • Thinking that other people are constantly mumbling.
  • Having difficulty hearing on the phone.

Most often, 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 someone is told they have hearing loss by a family member, chances are good that they do.

4. Get a hearing test

Finally, it’s important to get a hearing test, for two reasons. One, if your hearing is normal, you can not only inform others that your hearing is fine, you’ll also establish a baseline to contrast future hearing tests.

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