Healthy Habits to Protect Your Hearing

Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A Hearing Health, Hearing Loss

Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A

Although hearing loss occurs among a great majority of older adults, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to stem the tide. Tiny hair-like cells in the cochlea of the inner ear enable our hearing, and these fragile hairs are easily damaged through a life of hearing. Those who live a normal life of sound exposure tend to have some kind of hearing loss later in life, but those with especially noisy lifestyles or workplaces can experience even greater rates of hearing loss. Furthermore, some of our recreational choices can bring on hearing loss, as well. Let’s take a moment to consider some of the preventative steps you can take to protect your hearing, most of which are simple, everyday behaviors that can have a lifetime of benefit.

Hearing Protection in the Workplace

It goes without saying that hearing protection is the best “protective” measure you can take to prevent hearing loss, but the contexts in which hearing protection is necessary may come as somewhat of a surprise. Of course, if you work in a loud industrial or manufacturing site, you will need to wear hearing protection as part of your job. OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) publishes guidelines to which all employers must adhere when it comes to sound exposure. These regulations are measured in terms of loudness (decibels) and time of exposure, as well. For instance, if you are in a slightly noisy environment, you may be able to complete an entire shift with proper hearing protection. Yet, as the sound gets louder, you need to limit the time of your exposure, taking breaks from the noisy environment. The trouble is, it can be difficult to find quiet space in a loud workplace, so hearing protection is an excellent way to get some relief from the noise. Both earplugs and noise-cancelling ear muffs work wonders to protect your hearing from damage.

Limiting Recreational Noise

Outside the working environment, we need to protect our hearing from other sources of noise, and some of these are self-imposed. Those who love to attend concerts, dance clubs, and sporting events will be familiar with the experience of walking away with ringing in their ears. If you encounter an environment that causes this ringing, you know it was loud enough to do damage. Earplugs are easy to transport to these events, and you can even get customized ear protection that is molded to the shape of your individual ear. One of the other ways to protect against recreational sound is to limit your exposure to sound through headphones and earbuds. These devices are remarkably enjoyable and immersive, yet that very feature makes them dangerous. We often do not realize the high decibels of sound we are projecting directly into our ears. Just because those headphones sound quiet when you take them off doesn’t mean they won’t do lasting damage to your hearing when they are playing directly into your ear canal. Limit not only the loudness of these devices but also the length of use. At some high volumes, it is recommended to use headphones for only thirty minutes at a time, so be sure to consult the recommendations suited to your individual units. Wearing headphones during transportation poses a particular risk. The noise of a train, bus, or freeway can compete with your headphone volume, encouraging you to turn them up. Yet, the surrounding sound is added to the sound you play from your device, making them potentially dangerous for your hearing.

Know the Signs of Hearing Loss

Another way to protect your hearing is to be ready to seek assistance when it becomes necessary. If you see any of the signs of hearing loss, such as struggles to carry on conversations, turning up the television to a loud volume, or avoiding noisy places like restaurants and parties, then you may be experiencing hearing loss. Don’t delay to get a test right away. Once you take a step toward treatment, you may be able to prevent further loss, as well. Having a baseline test of your hearing ability never hurts either. By knowing what your hearing ability looks like, your hearing health professional will be able to identify the moment when your loss requires treatment.