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 consider adding to this list the resolution to protect our hearing.

In 2016, we saw countless reports regarding the growing epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has warned us that billions of people are at risk from exposure to loud noise volumes at work, at home, and at play.

We also discovered that even teenagers are at risk, as the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1990s.

The truth is that our hearing can be harmed 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 basic resolutions to protect and conserve our hearing health.

1. Know how loud is too loud

First, how loud is too loud, and how can you know when your hearing is at risk?

To begin with, sound is measured in units called decibels. As the decibel level increases, the intensity level of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing injury.

Here’s a list of sounds with their corresponding decibel levels. Remember that anything above 85 decibels can potentially damage your hearing with repeated exposure.

  • Whisper in a quiet library – 30 decibels (dB)
  • Normal conversation – 60 dB
  • City traffic – 85 dB
  • Jackhammer at 50 feet – 95 dB
  • Motorcycle – 100 dB
  • Music player at maximum volume – 100+ dB
  • Power saw at three feet – 110 dB
  • Loud rock concert – 115 dB
  • 12-Gauge Shotgun Blast – 165 dB

Remember 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. Protect your ears

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

That means, in general, there are three ways you can guard against hearing damage from direct exposure to loud noise:

  1. Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by decreasing the volume on an mp3 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).

The following are some other tips to protect your hearing:

  • Employ the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a mobile device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the max volume.
  • Consult with your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk profession.
  • Use hearing protection at noisy locations and during loud activities. Budget friendly foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and custom made earplugs are available from your local hearing professional.
  • Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block external sound so you can listen to the music at reduced volumes.
  • Invest in musicians plugs, a special type of earplug that decreases volume without generating the muffled sound of foam earplugs.

3. Know the warning signs of hearing loss

Hearing loss results when the nerve cells of the inner ear are injured. Here are a few of the signs of hearing loss to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:

  • Ringing in the ears, which is stands for tinnitus.
  • The feeling of “fullness” in your ears.
  • Difficulty comprehending speech, where everything sounds muffled.

Those are some 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 misunderstanding what people are saying.
  • Having trouble following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words.
  • Turning the television or radio volume up to the level where others notice.
  • Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
  • Having difficulty hearing on the phone.

Most 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 somebody is told they have hearing loss by a family member, chances are good that they do.

4. Get a hearing test

Finally, it’s vital to get a hearing test, for a couple of reasons. One, if your hearing is normal, you can not only inform others that your hearing is fine, you’ll also establish a baseline to contrast future hearing tests.

Second, if the hearing test does reveal hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care expert to determine the the best hearing plan, which typically includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern-day technology, you can restore your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.