If you’ve been wearing hearing aids for a while, you’re
March 3 is World Hearing Day: Hearing Care for All
When’s the last time you had a hearing test? Quite some time ago? When’s the last time you gave any thought to your long-term hearing health? March 3 is World Hearing Day, and what better time to give some attention to one of the most important aspects of your long-term health and well-being: your ears. World Hearing Day is organized by the World Health Organization with the goal of sending a call to action to individuals and policymakers alike.
The number of people living with hearing issues and unaddressed diseases of the ear today is unacceptable; the WTO is calling for timely action by governments, communities and individuals to address the systemic and personal issues preventing hearing healthcare from reaching all people. Hearing loss is often preventable, and education is the only thing standing in the way of preventing a majority of cases of hearing loss worldwide.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)
NIHL is 100% preventable. While loud sound is all around us all the time, we need only plug our ears to prevent permanent damage.
Many people are surprised to learn that an average noise level as low as 85 dBA (about the volume of a lawnmower) will cause permanent hearing loss after about 8 hours of exposure. For every additional 3 dBA of noise, the safe time of exposure is cut in half. By the time we reach 100 dBA, it only takes a few moments of exposure to cause permanent hearing loss.
Too many people are unknowingly exposed to dangerous volume levels. There is a tacit assumption that if the sound level is not painful, then it is safe. Unfortunately, this is not the case. 85 dBA is by no means painful, but even one day of continuous exposure (8 hours) causes hearing loss.
Earbuds and headphones are some of the leading causes of NIHL. Often when we use earbuds, we are adding to the sound that is already present in the environment. While the actual level of total noise exposure at the eardrum is not measurable without special equipment, it is certain that too many people are exposing themselves to unsafe noise levels by listening to earbuds and headphones.
While it is difficult to determine exactly what level is safe, suffice it to say that it is nowhere near the maximum volume. Earbud wearers should be extremely cautious to always keep the volume far lower than maximum; just enough to hear the program material. If environmental sound is already loud (such as in an airplane cabin), it may not be safe to add the sound from a set of headphones.
Active noise-canceling headphones and earbuds have come a long way in recent years, and can be a good option for those who wish to enjoy programming while traveling or otherwise being exposed to noise. Still, users should be careful to keep the volume of their content just loud enough to be able to hear it comfortably.
Every person should carry a set of earplugs in case they encounter a loud environment. While this might sound like a hassle, a set of disposable earplugs can cost less than $1.00 and fit into the tiny pocket in a pair of jeans. We encounter so much sound in the world, it is good to be prepared for what we might encounter.
Those who frequently encounter loud sound, such as concertgoers, might wish to invest in a set of reusable earplugs. These cost about $15–30 and present a more accurate sound quality than disposables, which tend to disproportionately attenuate high frequencies.
Those who find themselves requiring earplugs on a very regular basis might wish to invest further in a set of custom-molded earplugs. The best of the best, custom-molded earplugs block all sound except that which is allowed through a small attenuator, which can be switched out with other attenuators for different purposes. Custom-molded earplugs present a truly accurate representation of the frequency spectrum; everything sounds exactly as it does without earplugs, only quieter. Because custom-molded earplugs can attenuate to a higher degree than any other type of earplug, these are also the best choice for those who are subjected to extremely high noise levels, such as hunters and gun enthusiasts.
Get a Hearing Test!
The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit, recommends getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years thereafter. Regular hearing tests are important to keep track of your hearing health and get an early warning sign that you may be exposing yourself to too much loud sound or otherwise incurring damage to your ears. The sooner you catch hearing loss, the sooner you can take steps to prevent further loss. If you do have a problematic degree of hearing loss, hearing aids are the best treatment, and should be adopted sooner than later to prevent unnecessary detriments to lifestyle and well-being.