How can I prevent hearing loss?
Two common reasons for hearing loss in adults are age-related changes and noise-induced hearing damage. While we have not found the “fountain of youth” for your ears there are some things that you can do to have the healthiest hearing possible.
First let’s talk about noise. Our world is certainly a noisy place! The loudness of a sound is measured in decibels (or dB). Sounds in the 0-10 dB range are the softest sounds the human ear can hear. Normal conversation averages about 60 dB. When sound reaches 85 dB or louder it can begin to cause permanent damage to your hearing. The amount of time you are exposed to a sound also makes a difference. For example, a sound at 85 dB may take as long as 8 hours to cause permanent damage, while a sound a 100 dB can start damaging the inner ear after only 30 minutes of listening. Very loud sounds of 115 dB or more (ex: shotgun fire) can damage hearing instantly.
If you work or have hobbies or leisure activities in noisy environments, protecting your hearing with earplugs or earmuffs is highly recommended. A very general rule of thumb is that if you have to shout to be heard, the noise level may be damaging to your ears. Today’s technology has made it even easier to estimate sound levels; If you have a smart phone there are many free “sound level meter” apps available. The next time you are at a loud concert, you can spot-check the sound level! If it is over 85-90 dB, it might be wise to use that hearing protection!
Age-related hearing loss (or presbycusis) may not be entirely preventable…unless you find that fountain of youth we mentioned! The best thing we can do to prevent this type of hearing loss is to keep our bodies healthy. Some recent studies have reported higher rates of hearing loss in smokers, diabetics and those who are obese.
As always, talk to your physician regarding any health care concerns including hearing loss. Consider seeing an Audiologist for a hearing test if you are noticing changes in your hearing, have significant noise exposure or just want to establish a baseline.