What did you say? If you have any wise, aging friends or loved ones in your life, you have probably been asked to speak up once or twice. While you lovingly oblige them, you may want to stop and think about your own ears. Take a look at what you might be doing to damage your own hearing right now.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 360 million people worldwide are suffering with a disabling hearing loss, including 32 million children.
While old age does play a factor, over 1 billion young people have a high risk of damaging their ears earlier due to the toxic levels of noise around them. Here are several top sources causing this problem:
- Your job
While work in general is not a real cause for hearing loss, the noise involved might be. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), repeat or prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can damage your hearing permanently.
To put this noise level in perspective, a normal conversation is about 60 decibels, the noise from heavy traffic is around 85 and guns or firecrackers are at a higher 150. The longer you are exposed to these high-frequency sounds, the more your hearing can be impaired.
For many, this long exposure happens on the job. According to the US National Library of Medicine, normal on-the-job tasks are already above safe levels.
For instance, a jack hammer from 3 feet away is rated at 120 decibels, and even a large truck operates at 90 decibels.
As a general rule, if you have to yell to be heard at work, you should be protecting your ears. Construction workers, farmers, airline ground workers and military soldiers are all at risk because of their jobs.
2. Your music
Following along the same lines as your noisy job is your noisy entertainment. In fact, WHO says that the 1 billion young adults in danger of hearing loss have that danger because of personal audio devices or entertainment venues.
Depending on the choice of entertainment, you could be listening to sounds that are 100 decibels or more, a level only safe for a few minutes. According to WHO, you should limit your tunes to just 60 minutes total within a day. In addition, stay away from noisy venues or wear earplugs.
3. Your medicine
Have you ever suspected your medication as a cause for your hearing problems? They can be, and experts even have a name for them——ototoxic drugs.
These medicines commonly damage hearing by impairing the inner ear:
- Some antibiotics
- Diuretics used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure
- High doses of aspirin or ibuprofen
- Cancer-treating medicines
Older people and patients taking more than one of these medicines have a higher risk of experiencing hearing loss. You may notice symptoms like ringing in the ears and vertigo rather quickly after starting the medication. If this happens, let your doctor know right away so that he can work out an alternative.
4. Your smoking habit
As you might know, smoking cigarettes can raise your blood pressure. It does so by constricting the blood vessels, narrowing passage for blood to be pumped through your body. The main culprit for this effect is nicotine.
What you might not know is that this constricting can have effects on other areas of the body too, including your ears. As you smoke, the blood vessels in the ears get constricted slightly, and this can lead to a decrease in hearing over time.
In one UK study published in 2014, the researchers confirmed their suspicions on the topic after studying over 150,000 adults. For both current smokers and those exposed to secondary smoke, the researchers found a decrease in participants’ hearing ability. This fact is just one more reason why you might want to reconsider before pulling out another cigarette.
5. Your car or bike
Last, you might be damaging your ears just by driving around your fancy car. Traffic in general can produce a high amount of noise, but when you put the top down on your treasured convertible, you are actually increasing that level.
According to one study of the noise levels in convertibles, drivers may be exposing themselves to levels between 82 and 92 decibels. At the maximum noted in the study, drivers even went as high as 99 decibels, certainly outside recommendations for safe hearing.
While the convertible study was very small, experts are concerned about the dangers of wind noise at high speeds. In a recent study on cyclists, researchers found that the athletes were experiencing 85 decibels even at normal 15 mph speeds. Once they reached downhill speeds, they were dealing with levels over 100 decibels.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss
Now that you know what you might be doing to damage your hearing, you have the responsibility of protecting it. Try these ideas to keep your noise level in check:
- Turn down your smartphone.
Whether you’re talking on the phone, watching a video or listening to Spotify, you should never turn your smartphone on its maximum volume. Some smartphones even have a feature that will warn you if you are using it at an unsafe level.
- Get earplugs.
Whenever you go somewhere with or do something around loud noises, you should value your ears. You can even find some more sophisticated-looking earplugs, rather than the neon colors you normally see on construction workers.
- Choose noise-cancelling headphones.
Whatever you do, stay away from earbuds that aren’t meant to cancel out ambient noise. Instead, spend a few extra dollars on headphones that will block other noises so that you are not turning up the volume.
- Take a break.
Once you have listened to music for 60 minutes, take a break. Give yourself space in between the noise to let your hearing get back to normal. Likewise, if you have gone to a loud venue, spend several days in more quiet surroundings.
- Get away.
If the loud noise around you is out of your control, get away from it. The more distance between you and the noise, the less harmful it will be to your hearing.
Without meaning to, you are probably causing damage to your hearing in one or more of these ways. The fact is that your hearing is something you cannot get back once it’s gone. Protect it now, and you will be thankful later.