To Hear and Be Heard…
Ahhh, youth. Everything seems easier to the rosy-cheeked, limber-limbed, and unjaded. The senses are sharp and clear. The body feels and functions. And if you’re fortunate enough to have access to the right care and resources, you can work to extend the senses of childhood far beyond your teens and twenties.
We’ve all heard health tips to that effect. Prevent degeneration. Wear SPF. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Exercise. Get enough sleep. And drink water— so, so much water.
What many people haven’t heard is this:
You’re hearing far too much.
Whether or not you believe it, there is a limit to the noise level the human ear can withstand. Generally, the higher the noise’s volume, the shorter amount of time you can listen without jumpstarting hearing loss.
And I mean permanent hearing loss. In our increasingly noisy world, hearing loss knows no age. Youth is no boundary. It targets everyone. So best prepare for the long haul.
Hearing Loss Facts
NIOSH, or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, has pulled together with the CDC, OSHA, and the U.S. Department of Labor to impose a limit on American workers’ daily noise doses. That limit is 85 dB, with volume measured in decibels, over an 8-hour work shift. Anything above those levels is actionably hazardous and contributes greatly to hearing loss over time. For reference, an average toilet flushing is around 75 dB, a normal conversation with someone nearby registers at around 60 dB, and a whisper tops out at 30 dB.
Chances are that you can’t safely listen to your favorite album on full-blast without doing damage. In fact, scientists are finding that just one rock concert is enough to cause irreversible damage to our ears.
Let’s apply NIOSH’s limit to a mundane activity. Say your earbuds max out at 115 dB (about the same volume as an ambulance siren). You don’t usually listen to your music that loudly, but you like to hover around 85% max volume, so about 98 dB. That’ll get you a little over 20 minutes of safe listening. A few songs if you’re lucky.
But then your favorite song comes on, and you crank the volume up to 112 dB, or 97% max volume. The human ear can only withstand that volume for 56 seconds. You won’t even get to the second verse before parts of your inner-ear’s fragile mechanisms start to die.
And worse still, our bodies are so efficient at compensating for lost senses that we rarely know when hearing loss is happening. You’ll just keep listening. It doesn’t hurt, so you’ll let the music blare on.
How to Protect Yourself Against Hearing Loss
You can’t always control the volume of your surroundings, but there are practical things you can do to keep those eardrums-a-drumming for decades to come.
- Download a free personal noise dosimeter app or buy a personal noise dosimeter to wear. Noise dosimeters take dB level readings from the environment around you and alert you when those levels are high enough to be hazardous. Some apps will even keep track of how much time you have left before your ears will need some quiet time.
- Carry earplugs at all times. Small, cheap, and easy to wear, earplugs might just be the most underrated invention of our time. They travel easily too, fitting anywhere your standard earbuds would. It’s not recommended to wear earplugs while driving or while navigating city sidewalks, but if you’re ever in need of some quiet or anticipate being somewhere loud, save your ears the trouble and block out the extra noise.
- Ditch your earbuds for over-ear headphones. Studies show that while both earbuds and headphones can damage your ears irreparably, earbuds are more likely to cause hearing loss because they sit directly against your ear canals. Additionally, most earbuds aren’t noise-canceling, so you’ll instinctively turn up the volume to drown out background sounds that headphones would muffle for you.
- Advocate for your ears. If you’re finding that your workplace or gym or favorite store is playing music or has sounds at dangerous levels, let the staff know. You have a right to go about your day without the risk of permanent hearing loss. And chances are if it’s bothering you, it’s bothering others too. So speak up!
- Learn to be comfortable with and seek silence. For many, it’s second nature to fill silences. We all know someone who insists on doing chores with the TV on, or cooking to Spotify, or driving home with the volume cranked. However, considering how easy it is to induce hearing loss, it’s clear that we weren’t meant to be tuned in 24/7. Instead of saturating your silences, listen to your music or TV or audiobook in twenty-minute spans. Take breaks. Schedule deliberate quiet time. By doing so, you’ll allow the frazzled nerves, cells, and structures of your inner ears to recover. You will thank yourself for it when you’re much older and are still able to hear all of your favorite songs, sounds, and voices.
Unlike parts of the body that are designed to take a hit, your ears are delicate. It takes very little noise to cause permanent hearing loss, which has a profound impact on quality of life. In fact, according to the CDC, hearing loss is associated with anxiety, depression, loneliness, cognitive decline, and even heart problems.
At Empower, we’re all about protecting the things we have and making investments in the future. Don’t let your body be the worry you ignore. Take care of yourself. Conserve the hearing ability you still have. Your future self will be glad you did.
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