Without a doubt, your hearing health should be treated as an extremely important part of your overall health. As one of your senses, it’s hard to imagine what life is like without your hearing until it’s gone.
Just as other parts of your health, like your eyesight and your hair, change over time, so does your hearing. This is to be expected, especially as age-related hearing loss is one of the most (if not the most) common causes of hearing loss.
Nevertheless, your hearing troubles can be prevented and managed by taking some precautions and making ear protection a priority in your life.
If you think that your hearing is ‘probably going to be fine,’ you shouldn’t be so sure. An astounding one in ten Americans suffers from hearing problems. As noise-induced hearing loss accounts for many of these cases and it’s the only entirely preventable form of hearing loss, we know that many of these individuals could have taken precautions to protect their hearing, but didn’t.
It’s time we viewed hearing protection as essential.
Your Guide to Ear Protection and Why It's So Important
Protecting your hearing is so important because unlike other health issues, once sensitive hair-like structures in your inner ear are damaged, they can’t be repaired.
One of the biggest threats to these hair cells is very loud noise exceeding 85 decibels (dB). Noise damage is irreversible and cumulative, so it’s really something that you want to avoid. As there are rarely safety caps on loud noise in popular leisure spaces such as concerts, festivals, bars, and nightclubs, it can often feel hard to avoid noise in the modern urban world.
Sadly, many people don’t take steps to protect their hearing from loud noise because they aren’t fully aware of how powerful noise can be or what a ‘safe’ level of noise is (which are sounds quieter than 70 dB). Lots of people also don’t pay their hearing any thought until it’s too late and the damage is already done. This is mainly because most individuals don’t experience symptoms of hearing loss and tinnitus until a threshold number of hair cells in the inner ear have been damaged.
As we’ve mentioned, hearing loss is cumulative, so every little bit of damage to your ears takes you one step closer to experiencing issues with your hearing. Often, the full effects of noise-damage aren’t felt until you’ve reached old age when this noise-induced hearing loss is compounded by age-related hearing loss.
When you hear a very loud sound either in a short burst or for repeated long periods, it can cause damage to your inner ear, triggering a constant or intermittent ringing or buzzing sound called tinnitus.
Yes, age-related and noise-induced hearing loss often occurs down the line as you get older (although many types of hearing loss frequently occur at all ages), but tinnitus often occurs more quickly after exposure to extremely loud noise and this might happen suddenly. It can come in bouts, but for many people, it never goes away.
Tinnitus can have a profound effect on your mental health as sufferers struggle to cope with the constant ringing sensation. As there is no cure for tinnitus, it’s not uncommon for people to burn out and develop stress and anxiety in their search for a solution. It’s important to understand that hearing health covers more than just general age-related hearing loss.
According to the American Tinnitus Association, nearly 15 percent of the general public experience some form of tinnitus, showing the condition to be more common than you might have previously thought. Although tinnitus can occur without a cause, around 20 million people in the U.S. have chronic tinnitus, and 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases. Many of these will be due to harm to their hearing and noise damage that could have been prevented.
Why It's Important to Protect Hearing in Modern Days
As we’re living longer, we want to make sure our hearing remains the best it can be well into our old age. Age can already take a toll on your hearing health, so you’ll want to prevent other contributing factors from putting it at an even greater risk.
Common Situations That Have Risky Noise Exposure
There are many places where people are exposed to risky levels of noise, including:
- The workplace — sectors such as construction and the music industry are notable noisy work environments
- During leisure activities — such as music events and if you take part in shooting as a sport
- Through personal audio devices — music devices such as iPods do not have volume controls capped at a safe volume level as standard
- Sounds in the environment — the world is full of loud noises such as those from building work and other sounds common to cities
Ways to Protect Your Hearing
Although loud noise is all around us — on the roads, in our social venues, and coming from our headphones — it has never been easier to protect your hearing.
A huge range of different ear protection products are now available online and in stores offering you earplugs and earmuffs in a variety of different styles and fits designed for various activities.
Depending on the noisy venue you frequent or activity you take part in, you can wear ear protection to reduce the level of noise entering your ear, thus reducing the amount of damage that is likely to occur.
When you’re around too much noise, you can also physically move away from the sound if you don’t have ear protection, stand far away from the source, or take breaks away from the noisy area. When listening to music on audio devices, try to play the sound at a level that is up to 60 percent of the maximum noise limit on the device. Even playing your music slightly quieter than usual whenever you listen can make a big difference.
Some other ways to protect your hearing include having a healthy, active lifestyle, reducing your alcohol intake, and stopping smoking.
If you’re prescribed medications for ear infections, make sure you take them to prevent any damage from getting worse. If you notice a sudden loss of hearing, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible.
When Should You See a Doctor?
If you’ve noticed that you’re having trouble hearing or have persistent ringing in your ears, make an appointment with your physician to get a hearing test. It’s important to treat any hearing loss (for example, with a hearing aid), as it can lead to balance and memory problems if left untreated.
If you’re experiencing difficulties with your hearing but you’re not sure whether it’s anything to worry about, why not take a preliminary online hearing test, such as the Olive Hearing Test? It only takes five minutes and gives you an instant indication as to whether you might need to make an appointment with an audiologist for comprehensive hearing testing.
Do keep in mind, however, that this is only a guide, does not constitute a medical diagnosis, and should not be used as a substitute for a professional in-person test.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: