World Hearing Day will mark the release of the World Health Organization’s World Report on Hearing: a global call to action for individuals and governments alike to address hearing loss and diseases of the ear across all phases of life. The message is clear that we need to do more to prevent and treat hearing loss in the world today, and what better way to celebrate than to talk about some of the key aspects of hearing healthcare and what we can do in our lives to promote our better hearing health!
Regular Hearing Tests
The Better Hearing Institute, a not-for-profit organization, recommends getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. Regular hearing tests are one of the most important ways to keep track of your hearing health. Most of us don’t realize we have hearing loss until it becomes unavoidable, but a hearing test will let you know whether you have hearing loss, and exactly how much, long before you notice it yourself. Then you can start to take care to prevent further loss. Prevention is the best medicine, no matter the current state of your hearing!
Quieter Than We Think
While we often imagine that only painful sound levels can cause permanent hearing loss, the truth is that even 85 dBA (about the level of noise from a lawnmower) can cause hearing loss after about 8 hours of continuous exposure. For every additional 3 dBA increment, it takes half the time of exposure to cause hearing loss. By the time sound levels reach 100 dBA (about the noise level of an average high school dance), hearing loss occurs in mere moments.
It’s important to protect our hearing whenever we encounter unsafe noise levels, but how do we know when they are present? If you’re not sure if an environment is too loud, you can use a smartphone app to measure it. Usually called an “SPL meter” (sound pressure level meter), these apps can be downloaded for free and will give a reading of momentary SPL as well as the average. If the average after 30 seconds or so is above 85 dBA, hearing protection should be used.
Earplugs are a crucial way to prevent hearing loss throughout our lives. Any time we are in a loud environment, we should reach for earplugs to protect us. To that end, it’s good practice to carry a set of earplugs everywhere we go. While this might at first sound like an inconvenience, remember that a set of disposable earplugs costs about $1.00 and can fit into the tiny pocket in a pair of jeans.
For those who encounter loud sounds more regularly, reusable earplugs can be a solid investment. Ranging from about $15–30, reusables provide better sound quality than disposables and typically attenuate about 15 dBA (meaning they subtract 15 dBA from the noise levels present in the environment).
If you’re a musician, concertgoer, hunter, gun enthusiast, motorcyclist, or otherwise regularly encounter unsafe noise levels, custom-molded earplugs are by far the most comfortable and effective option. An audiologist needs to take a mold of your ear canal and then produce a set of silicone earplugs that fit your ear canals perfectly. An attenuator of a specific degree is fitted to the earplug to reduce the sound level from the environment. The degree of attenuation will depend on the earplug’s intended use, and you might have multiple attenuators for different activities. The sound you hear through a custom-molded earplug is unparalleled: it sounds almost exactly like the sound from the environment, only quieter.
Earbuds are one of the most common ways that hearing loss is acquired today. Starting with the Sony Walkman in the 1980s, personal listening devices (PLDs) allow us to enjoy music or other audio content up close and personal without disturbing those around us. Unfortunately, the effects on our ears are individually unpredictable. We know that, statistically, hearing loss in younger people jumped after the introduction of the Walkman, and today’s PLDs are even louder.
If you use earbuds or headphones to enjoy audio on the go, remember that the maximum volume of your device is never safe. If ambient sound is already loud, your PLD will be adding to that. It’s better to put in earplugs than to increase the volume of your PLD. If you use a PLD often in noisy environments, invest in a set of noise-canceling headphones and remember to always set the volume just loud enough to comfortably hear the audio content.
Celebrate World Hearing Day with a Hearing Test!
If you’re due or overdue for a hearing test, make an appointment today! Your hearing health is an important part of your future good health and well-being, whether that means protecting your hearing or getting hearing aids to let you participate fully, once again, in the world of sound.