October is National Protect Your Hearing Month. This is a great time to think about the ways you might be making yourself unnecessarily vulnerable to hearing loss, and to schedule a hearing test if you haven’t had one in a while.
Regular Hearing Tests
The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, recommends getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. Those who might be more frequently exposed to loud noise or ototoxic chemicals should be tested even more regularly. If your medical history indicates a higher risk, you should also be tested more often. Regular hearing tests ensure that hearing loss can be detected early. If you find that you have a little bit of hearing loss, you’ll know you need to be more careful about protecting your hearing going forward.
Presbycusis (Age-Related Hearing Loss)
There are two main drivers of hearing loss in America today. One of them is age. As we get older, we tend to develop hearing loss. One-third of Americans between the ages 60–69 have hearing loss, and two-thirds of Americans over 70 have it. Almost 100% of centenarians have hearing loss. It seems like if we only live long enough, we will all experience some hearing loss.
While age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) may seem inevitable, there are some risk factors that appear to be modifiable. Non-smokers are less likely to develop hearing loss, as are those who closely follow an anti-inflammatory diet. Those who get more physical exercise are also at a lower risk of age-related hearing loss.
While there is no guarantee of preventing age-related hearing loss, the more you can do to reduce your risk, the better. If and when you do start to experience hearing loss, it’s likely to be less severe than if you smoke, eat cheeseburgers every day, and lead a sedentary lifestyle.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)
Noise-induced hearing loss, or “NIHL,” is on the rise today. While about 10% of millennials have hearing loss, already 17% of Gen-Z’ers have it. This is likely due to more frequent use of personal listening devices, louder sound systems for music performances, and generally more sound. It can be hard to escape dangerous noise levels in our everyday activities, but by arming yourself with some knowledge and a set of earplugs, you can protect yourself from NIHL.
In the mid-20th century, NIHL was more prevalent than it has been in recent decades. Up until the early 2000s, the rates at which people now experience hearing loss in their 70s were much more common to see in people between the ages of 50–69. It may be that occupational safety practices that protected workers from loud machinery—along with a general decline in manufacturing jobs—lowered the rates of NIHL in America.
But in the last ten years, we are seeing a rise in hearing loss amongst the very young, suggesting that loudness is once again causing people to lose their hearing at an unnecessarily young age.
How To Protect Yourself
If you engage regularly in loud activities (including playing acoustic musical instruments), you should get a hearing test regularly. Make sure you’re protecting your ears appropriately every time you’re in a loud environment. Keep the volume of personal listening devices just loud enough that you can hear the content. If you listen to headphones a lot on transportation, consider investing in noise-canceling headphones to reduce the din of the background, allowing you to keep the volume of your headphones lower.
How Loud Is Too Loud?
NIHL can happen after 8 hours of continuous exposure to sounds reaching an average of 85 dBA (decibels A-weighted). That’s about the sound level of a gas-powered lawn mower. For every additional 3 dBA of sound level, the safe time of exposure is cut in half. That means that by the time you reach 100 dBA (about the sound level of a high school dance), NIHL sets in after only a few minutes.
If the sound is too loud, move away from it. If you can’t move away from it, wear hearing protection. If you don’t have hearing protection, cover your ears with your hands. Do whatever you can to protect your ears during loud sonic events!
Custom Hearing Protection
For those who are routinely exposed to loud sound, custom hearing protection is the most effective, most comfortable, and best-sounding option. There are custom earplugs available for just about every type of loud activity, or even swimming. If you’re interested in custom hearing protection, make an appointment for a hearing test during Protect Your Hearing Month and find out what custom hearing protection can do to protect your ears in the best way possible.