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5 Ways To Protect Your Hearing

You probably shield your skin with SPF and your eyes with sunnies, but how often do you grab earplugs before hitting a concert? The answer is: likely not enough. One in 5 Americans ages 20 to 29 already has hearing damage, according to new research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And 1.1 billion young people worldwide are at risk for hearing loss, per the World Health Organization. Most of the affected don’t even know it, which is distressing, since once you’ve lost any part of your hearing, it’s gone forever.

The culprit is, not surprisingly, technology and the ways we use it. Today’s earbuds may stay put during a run, but they cause more harm than traditional over-ear headphones. “Earbuds focus the noise right into your eardrum,” says Yulia Carroll, MD, senior medical officer at the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC, “so the effect on your hearing is stronger.”

Meanwhile, 40 percent of young people ages 12 to 35 are regularly exposed to dangerous noise levels at concerts and sporting events. Nightclubs and bars pump music at intense volumes. And those craned beats that get you through cycling class? They may do wonders for your butt, but they’re wrecking your ears (research shows that some workout classes reach 94 decibels [dB], higher than the recommended noise-exposure limit of 85 dB).

Wherever you are, if noise is preventing you from hearing a friend standing a few feet away, it’s probably causing damage, says Dr. Carroll. We’re born with around 16,000 hair cells in each inner ear that help convert sound waves into electrical signals for the brain. These cells bend when exposed to sound, then straighten. But they’re like blades of grass: Step on them once and they bounce back; crush them constantly and you’ll kill the lawn. Trampled hair cells don’t regenerate.

One small bit of good news: noise-induced hearing loss is tied to both volume and duration. That means you’d have to listen to something at 85 decibels for eight straight hours to cause damage (see “How Loud Is Too Loud?” below). At levels over 100 dB, your window shrinks to 15 minutes.

5 Ways to Protect Your Ears
1. Know Your Noise Levels

Download an app like SoundMeter or Noise Hunter to track the decibel level around you — at concerts, in restaurants, and in techno-cardio classes.

2. Pump Down the Volume

You can still live life to a soundtrack if you follow the 60:60 rule: Listen at no more than 60 percent.

3. Abandon the Buds

We get it — they’re super convenient. But if you’re cranking the volume, your ears are suffering. Need to drown out background noise? Noise-canceling headphones are best for blocking ambient sound. (Look for a noise reduction rating, or NRR, or at least 9.)

4. Plug Them Up

Your best festival accessory? Ear plugs. (Look closely; The band and crew are wearing them.) Follow instructions on the packet to insert them properly—otherwise, they’re useless.

How Loud is Too Loud?
30dB:
 A whisper

60dB: A normal conversation

80dB: City traffic

85db: Recommended noise-exposure limit

90dB: A leaf blower at close range

110dB: Your headphones at max volume

115dB: A rock concert

130dB: A jet engine at takeoff (from the runway, not the cabin)

“I’m 33 — and I need hearing aids.”

“I blared The Clash and David Bowie in high school and joined a rock band at 18. My ears would ring for days after practice, but in my 20s, I didn’t think twice about it.

At 30, I began having trouble tuning into convos with friends and colleagues. When baristas in my neighborhood repeated my order back to me, I’d just smile and nod. I thought everyone around me just needed to speak up. Meanwhile, I watched Stranger Things with subtitles because I couldn’t hear the dialogue.

Eventually, an audiologist confirmed that my muffled hearing and the constant ringing in my ears were a direct result of the years I’d spent blasting (and making) high-volume music. I cried when he told me. I now use hearing aids — but to my happy surprise, they’re not old-school giant tan plastic contraptions. They’re nearly invisible. Not one person has ever asked me about them.

These days, I keep the music down to avoid further damage. At night, when all is quiet, I still listen to the sound of my ears ringing.” —Dana Suchow, as told by Leslie Goldman

Sound Barriers

Craig Kasper, chief audiologist at New York Hearing Doctors, shares four other factors behind muffled hearing.

1. Ear Wax

You need some wax to lubricate and protect the tissue in your ear, but a wax buildup can block the canal and cause temporary hearing loss. Leave removal to a doctor; cotton swabs just push wax farther in.

2. Allergies

They can cause congestion in the tube that links your nose to the middle of your ears, which can lead to temporary hearing struggles until pathways clear.

3. Cold Water

Love catching waves? Surfers and other cold water swimmers are prone to something called exostoses, or small bony growths in the ear canal that develop slowly over time and can prevent sound from getting in. Docs aren’t sure why this happens, but an audiologist will determine if you need surgery to remove them.

4. Perforated Drums

Changes in air pressure (experienced when flying or diving), very loud noises, and poking things in your ear can rupture a hole in your eardrum (ouch!). This often heals on its own — but if you notice long-term changes in your hearing, see your doctor.

Call us today to find out about more ways to protect your hearing! Chicagoland Hearing Aid Centers is here to help you hear!

This article was originally published as “Loud and Unclear” in the August 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan