The World Health Organization has issued a call to action this World Hearing Day, calling on policymakers and individuals alike to focus on Hearing Care For All! The degree to which hearing loss and diseases of the ear are going unaddressed today is unacceptable, and the key to better hearing health care for all is education in methods of screening, rehabilitation, and communication. Hearing loss, while very detrimental to quality of life, is often entirely preventable, so let’s look at some of the ways we can take better care of our hearing this World Hearing Day, March 3.
Regular Hearing Tests
The Better Hearing Institute, a not-for-profit organization, has recommended that every person get a hearing test once a decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. Regular testing ensures that hearing loss can be detected early, and lifestyle changes can be implemented before hearing loss ever becomes an issue. Those who are at a higher risk for hearing loss, due to greater occupational hazard or medical history, should be tested more frequently.
How Safe Is Safe?
Many people are surprised to learn that sound does not have to be particularly loud to cause hearing loss. About 85 dBA (the loudness of a lawnmower) can cause permanent hearing loss after only 8 hours of continuous exposure. For every additional 3 dBA of loudness, the safe time of exposure is cut in half. By the time sound gets to 100 dBA, only a few moments of exposure can cause permanent hearing loss.
If you’re unsure whether you’re at risk on a regular basis, you can download an SPL meter (sound pressure level) for your smartphone that will measure the loudness in your environment. Any average level above 85 dBA means you should alter the environment, leave it, or protect your ears with hearing protection.
It’s good practice to carry a set of earplugs at all times, in case you encounter an environment with unsafe noise levels. While this might sound like a hassle, a set of disposable earplugs can be obtained for about $1.00, and will fit into the tiny pocket in a pair of jeans.
Those who expect to encounter loud environments on a regular basis might wish to invest in reusable earplugs. Ranging in price from about $15–30, most models offer considerably better sound quality than disposables, which tend to attenuate high frequencies disproportionately.
At the high end of the range of earplugs available are custom-molded options. An audiologist will take a mold of your ear canal and a set of earplugs will be molded to match your ears exactly. These create a total block of all sound, with the exception of a tiny attenuator that is fixed at the outside edge. Custom-molded earplugs offer excellent sound quality, attenuating all frequencies evenly, and are comfortable to wear for longer periods of time. They can also attenuate to a much higher degree than most other types of earplugs, making them a good choice for hunters and gun enthusiasts as well as musicians and music enthusiasts.
Earbuds and headphones are one of the biggest causes of hearing loss today. Most of us don’t realize just how loud we might be listening a lot of the time, when the content from our personal listening device is amplified enough to compete with an already-loud level of background sound.
When the Sony Walkman became popular in the early 1980s, the hearing healthcare community issued warnings about the volume levels to which its users were subjected, and indeed we saw a rise in hearing loss among younger people at that time. Today’s personal listening devices are capable of volume levels even higher than the early Walkman. It’s important when listening to make sure your volume level is set well below the maximum, just loud enough for you to comfortably hear the content.
Get a Hearing Test for World Hearing Day!
If you’re due (or overdue) for a hearing test, schedule one today! Keeping track of your hearing health is an important aspect of maintaining your overall health and well-being throughout your life. If you do have some hearing loss, we can talk about how to prevent further hearing loss. If you have noticeable hearing loss, it may benefit you to start wearing hearing aids, which are the best treatment available for hearing loss today and can keep you hearing your best in most situations. It’s up to all of us to keep the world hearing as best we can, so listen up!