Prevention of noise-induced hearing loss: 6 tips to better care for your ears

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Hearing is an important part of our daily lives, regardless of age. Of course, young people don’t need hearing aids or cochlear implants at the same rate as older people, but it’s important to protect your hearing, whether you’re supporting your school in a college stadium or enjoying a dancing at the local center for the elderly. A single loud event can permanently damage your hearing. So it’s best to educate yourself about noise-induced hearing loss and make a conscious effort to treat your ears with respect.

What is noise-induced hearing loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss, also known as NIHL, occurs when sound damages the sensitive structures and fibers of your inner ear. NIHL can be both temporary or permanent and can affect one or both ears, according to the National Institute of Health. According to a 2006 study, more than 10 million adults (6%) under the age of 70 have symptoms of NIHL, along with 17% of adolescents, almost three times the adult rate.

What is important to know about NIHL is that it can occur over time without any noticeable change; for example, exposing yourself to loud concerts or operating loud equipment in small spaces without hearing protection. Although it is impossible to control all noise and noise levels, you can control how you protect your hearing and your preparation when you expect to be exposed to loud noises. Read on for six ways to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

1. Wear hearing protection around loud noises

Credit: Hearos / ProCase / Revised

Even if it doesn’t seem like it, your eardrums are fragile and deserve the best defense possible.

The most obvious line of defense against loud noises is to wear hearing protection. Earplugs are great because they are portable, small, and tend to be accessible and affordable at any local pharmacy. Keeping a pair of earplugs in your purse, car, or backpack keeps you ready for any loud event like a concert, house party, sporting event, fireworks or even a passage construction.

Likewise, if your job requires you to operate noisy machinery, whether factory or farm equipment, protecting your ears is just as important. Earplugs are a good option, but over-the-ear protection may be more comfortable if worn longer. Earmuffs can also stay in place better if you are moving around while loud noises are present around you.

Get the Hearos Extreme earplugs from Amazon for $14.39

Get the ProCase Safety Earmuffs from Amazon for $16.99

2. Turn down the volume you want can control

Person smiling on sofa while holding smartphone and wearing headphones.

Credit: Getty Images / Delmaine Donson

This is your sign to turn on the sound down.

In many situations, especially in everyday life, you have perfect control over the noise around you. Think about your car stereo, your computer speakers, and the sound coming from your TV. Most of these devices have a remote control or a button that allows you to adjust the noise, ideally by lowering the volume. Brian D. Nicholas, director of hearing and balance at White Plains Hospital, outlines some metrics for when your daily noise level may be harmful:

  • If someone five feet or more away can hear the music in your headphones or earbuds, it’s too loud.

  • If you’ve turned the volume up to more than 75% of your device’s sound level, it’s too loud.

  • If you’ve turned up the volume to drown out other noises like a lawnmower, cafe chatter, or washing machine, it’s too loud.

Read more: You should never let your kids wear headphones, here’s why

3. Wear comfortable braces that fit you well and take breaks

On the left, Apple Airpods Pro.  On the right are black Bose headphones.

Credit: Apple / Bose / Revised

Like everything else, any headphone use should be moderate, but these picks from Apple and Bose are too good to pass up.

The past two decades of scientific advancements have led to an increased reliance on personal technology, especially given the increased prevalence of video calling since the start of the pandemic. Due to this change in lifestyle, people of all ages tend to wear headphones or earbuds more often and longer. Doctor of Audiology Shelby McCann believes that “it is essential that these protective devices fit properly – the more comfortable these devices are, the better they will work and the more likely users will be to wear them”.

You might swear by your Airpods or Sony earphones – the top pick in our earphone tests – but if they’re bothering your ears, you might want to try a different model or brand. And in cases where your hearing aids fit you well, don’t forget to take breaks. Nicholas suggests taking a headphone break equal to the amount of time you wear them. “If you’ve been listening to music for an hour, take a break for an hour. 30 minutes? Take a thirty minute break.

Get the Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise Canceling Headphones from Amazon for $348

4. Find out how noisy your surroundings are

Screenshots of volume control apps.

Credit: Sound Mater / Decibel X / Revised

Save your ears with volume control apps that can be downloaded directly to your phone or tablet and kept at your fingertips every day.

In some situations, it can be difficult to really know how much noise pollutes your area. For that, Jay Clark, CEO of EarPeace, urges people to consider downloading a decibel meter app on their smartphones. As Clark describes it, the decibel meter app lets you “check the sound level as you move around the world. Often when we’ve familiarized ourselves with the sound level of a space, we don’t realize that daily volume can be in the harmful range until we check and see real-time decibel readings!” You might not realize your commute is louder than a sports stadium, or how loud the noise builds up in your home environment.Often the first step to solving a problem is to determine where you stand.

Get the Sound Meter app from Google Play for free

Get the Decibel X app for free from the Apple App Store

5. Be prepared for noises, both expected and unexpected

Person holding concert earplug in fingers.

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Now gigs and festivals can stay fun without the lingering ringing in your ears the next day.

Another way to prevent noise-induced hearing loss is to be prepared to protect your ears in any situation. “Just like you might pack sunscreen to protect your skin…having your hearing protection with you will always be your best defense against loud adventures that come your way unexpectedly!” said Clark. I have a handful of friends who keep earplugs on their keyrings so they don’t forget to take them to concerts and football games. You can also keep a spare set of headphones in your backpack or car to get ready. Check out our best earplugs for sleeping for the best noise-canceling pairs tested and to buy “stronger” earplugs.

Get the Mumba Concert earplugs from Amazon for $23.95

6. Ask for help if you notice a change in your hearing

A person having their ears checked by a doctor.

Credit: Getty Images / picSTOCK

If you think you have signs of early hearing loss, don’t be afraid to see an ear, nose and throat doctor to help you move forward.

To notify the NIHS, you need to be aware of this. You can learn about the dangers of noise levels, common problems in your area, hearing loss, and hearing treatment and intervention options. Nicholas reminds us: “Although most hearing loss is not reversible, there are cases of temporary hearing loss: due to a speaker at a concert, for example. But the impact on your ears from chronic noise exposure is irreversible. Do your best to protect your hearing, but if you are concerned that an event may affect your ability to hear well, consider contacting a doctor or specialist to have a hearing test or discuss hearing aids or cochlear implants .

Read more: Noise-induced hearing loss and you

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