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

It’s the New Year, which for the majority of us means vowing to eat better, work out more, and save more money. But we might want to add to this list the resolution to preserve our hearing.

In 2016, we read an abundance of reports about the escalating epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of individuals are at risk from exposure to loud noise volumes at work, at home, and at play.

We also found out that even teens are at risk, as the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 90s.

The bottom line is that our hearing can be damaged at work, while attending live shows, and even at home through 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, how can you know 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 rises, the intensity 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 any sound above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with continuous exposure.

  • Whisper in a tranquil library – 30 decibels (dB)
  • Normal conversation – 60 dB
  • City traffic – 85 dB
  • Jackhammer at 50 feet – 95 dB
  • Motorcycle – 100 dB
  • MP3 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 two times as loud. This means that a rock concert at 110 dB is 32 times louder than a normal conversation at 60 dB.

2. Safeguard your ears

Hearing damage is influenced by three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the length of time subjected to the sound, and 3) the distance between your ears and the sound source.

That implies that, generally speaking, there are three ways you can protect against hearing injury from direct exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by turning down the volume on a music 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 far as possible (for example, not standing directly in front of the speakers during a rock concert).

Here are some other tips to protect your hearing:

  • Employ 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.
  • Consult with your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk occupation.
  • Use hearing protection at loud venues and during loud activities. Low-cost foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and custom earplugs are available from your local hearing specialist.
  • Purchase noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block exterior sound so you can listen to the music at lower volumes.
  • Purchase musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that decreases volume without producing the dull sound of foam earplugs.

3. Know the signs of hearing loss

Hearing loss occurs when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. Below are a few of the signs of hearing loss to look for immediately after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, otherwise known as tinnitus.
  • The feeling 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 misinterpretation what people are saying.
  • Having difficulty 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 always mumbling.
  • Having trouble hearing on the phone.

Quite often, your family members or friends will be the first to observe 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 your hearing tested

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

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