The Ultimate Guide to Hearing Health

Damage that occurs to our hearing and our auditory system can be irreversible, and once it happens, it can have devastating effects on our daily lives.

Hearing loss has been linked to declines in the quality of our relationships, depression and even other health concerns like heart disease.

Over time and as part of the aging process we naturally experience hearing loss at some level, but for the most part, this is a gradual decline that’s not very noticeable.

For some people, that decline can happen more dramatically than for others, or it can occur more quickly.

While it’s difficult to stop the effects of aging on hearing, there are certain things that we expose our ears to on a daily basis that might cause damage or could lead to more rapid declines in the functionality of our auditory system.

So, How Loud Is Dangerous?

One question a lot of people have is, “How loud is too loud?” If you work in noisy environments, love to go to concerts, or have been exposed to a loud blast, you may be at risk for noise-induced hearing loss.

The human ear is a fragile system, but there are measures that you can take to protect your hearing if you know you will be in a noisy situation.

85 dB SPL, which is about the sound level of heavy city traffic, is considered the upper limit for what is safe for your ears for an extended period of time.

Normal conversation usually falls around 60 dB SPL. Beyond 85 dB SPL, you should be careful to wear hearing protection for any amount of time.

The higher the noise level, the less time you should be near it without hearing protection.

Many people have experienced a temporary hearing loss or ringing in their ears after being exposed to loud noise.

This is called a Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS).

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Although it may seem harmless, a TTS is no joke.

Over time, this noise exposure will add up to cause permanent damage and irreversible hearing loss.

If you’re ever questioning if you should be wearing protection in a noisy environment, chances are, you should.

When it comes to your hearing, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Hearing protection has advanced so that it comes in many forms, including electronic earmuffs and earplugs made specifically for working, music listening, and recreation.

6 Tips to Protect Your Hearing

1. Use Soundproof Earplugs

Many people are exposed to loud noises primarily in the workplace or when they’re participating in recreational activities. Regardless of the specific situation, wearing soundproof earplugs can go a long way in protecting your hearing.

Earplugs don’t interfere with your ability to work or enjoy activities, and you can order custom-fitted models as well. There are even certain earplugs that will help you still hear conversations happening around you, but they reduce the noise level overall to protect your ears and hearing.

For work and other areas where you might be exposed to excessive noise, you can also consider earmuffs or defenders. These are made out of material that’s specifically designed to block out sound, and it’s typically acoustic foam.

2. Know the Warning Signs

Sometimes it can be helpful to know the warning signs that you’ve been exposed to too much sound. That will allow you to remove yourself from a potentially harmful situation if necessary.

For example, if you notice that there’s a ringing or buzzing in your ears, you may need to leave the situation where you’re exposed to loud noise.

3. Consider Your Environment

While work and certain recreational activities are a big source of noise exposure for many people, your daily environment could be as well.

For example, if you live in a big city, you may be regularly exposed to very loud noises without even realizing it. You can wear earplugs when you’re out and about in a big city or something like noise-canceling headphones.

4. Limit How Often You Listen to Loud Music

Most of us listen to music regularly, but it is important to be aware of how loudly we’re listening to it. First, if you’re using bone conduction headphones, earbuds, or headphones on a personal listening device, never turn it to a high volume and especially not the max volume.

If you’re listening to speakers, be aware that you may get used to listening to it at such a high level that you don’t even notice it anymore. Think about the volume level you keep your music on, and whether or not you could listen to it on a lower level.

If you do listen to music on headphones, think about investing in a high-quality pair that will block out background noise and allow you to listen to music at a lower level.

A good rule of thumb is to listen to music through headphones or earbuds at no greater than 60 percent volume and for no longer than 60 minutes each day. Earbuds can be especially harmful to your ear health because of where they’re placed, so you may want to skip them and used traditional headphones instead.

5. Get Regular Hearing Checkups and Screenings

Just as you take care of other areas of your health and wellness, it’s important to do the same for your hearing.

Your primary care doctor can conduct regularly hearing screenings, and that will be a good way to establish a baseline and then ensure that you’re monitoring any hearing loss over time so that you can take steps to help the situation sooner rather than later.

Your primary doctor may also recommend you see a specialist if they identify a problem with your hearing or something that could evolve into a problem.

6. Give Your Ears Time to Rest and Recover

Our ears and our auditory system are like the rest of our body—they need time to rest and recover. If you’re exposing your ears to loud sounds, consider taking a break every few minutes if possible. For example, if you’re at a loud restaurant, step outside and let your ears rest for a few minutes.

If you have a particularly loud night out, your ears may need an average of 16 hours to recover, so have a quiet day following the night out.

Summing Up—Protect Your Hearing

Protecting your hearing is possible, particularly if you remain vigilant about the situations where your hearing could be most at risk.

Whether it’s at work, on the streets of the big city you live in, or at a specific activity such as an auto race or a concert, be proactive about how you protect your ears.

Common Questions (and Answers!) Related to Hearing Health

What Are Different Types of Hearing Loss?

The health of your ears and your hearing isn’t something you might think about, and most people don’t until it’s too late!

There are two general categories of hearing loss. The first is conductive and the second is sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss is typically related to obstruction, and it’s often temporary and can be reversed when the condition causing the obstruction is remedied. Sensorineural hearing loss is related to either deterioration from aging, or damage which usually occurs because of over-exposure to loud sounds.

The National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders reports that of the 31.5 million Americans with hearing loss, around 10 million of them experience impairments because of exposure to loud sounds.

It’s estimated that around 17 percent of Americans experience some level of impaired hearing. Understanding the types of hearing loss can be a good starting point if you want to learn how to protect one of your most important assets.

What many Americans don’t realize is the level of noise exposure they’re actually surrounded by on any given day, along with the harm this exposure is doing.

Can You Prevent Hearing Loss?

Preventing hearing loss related to exposure to excessive noise is possible. What happens when our ears are exposed to the noise is that it damages tiny hairs found in our inner ear. In general, there are some things to keep in mind as far as preventing damage to our hearing and eventual hearing loss. The first is that we should be aware of the noises around us and how they’re affecting us.

It’s also important to not only be sensitive to the level of noise around you but also to be aware of how to avoid it being damaging.

What Is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is a general term that refers to any situation where your ability to hear is lowered. Hearing loss makes it harder to hear what people are saying and sounds around you. Age is one of the most common reasons for hearing loss.

What Causes Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is most often caused by aging, but it can also be caused by noise exposure. Many of us don’t realize how much excessive noise we expose our ears to on a daily basis, which can lead to damage to our auditory systems. Other reasons include diseases and infections.

What Causes Temporary Hearing Loss?

Temporary hearing loss can be attributed to a number of factors. The most common reason for temporary hearing loss is exposure to loud noises, but an accumulation of ear wax or infections particularly in the middle ear can cause a temporary loss of hearing.

How Long Does Temporary Hearing Loss Last?

If someone experiences temporary hearing loss because of exposure to loud noise, it usually lasts anywhere from 16 to 48 hours. If hearing loss is related to something like a clogged ear canal or an infection, once the canal is cleared or the infection clears up, your hearing should return.

How Long Does Hearing Loss Last After An Ear Infection?

An ear infection can lead to inflammation and a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum. If someone has a chronic ear infection, it can lead to hearing loss that’s permanent as well. If someone temporarily loses hearing from an infection, it should go away when the infection does.

Is It Possible to Reverse Hearing Loss?

It may be possible to reverse hearing loss, but only in specific situations. Sensorineural hearing loss comes from damage to the tiny hairs in the inner ear, and it’s not reversible. Conductive hearing loss which occurs because of an obstruction or damage may be reversible.

What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL is the loss of hearing at some level because of exposure to loud sounds. One example is occupational hearing loss, which stems from noise exposure at the workplace. It can occur because of chronic exposure to loud noises, or because of a sudden high-intensity noise.

How to Tell if Hearing Loss Is Temporary or Permanent

In many cases, if someone experiences hearing loss it is permanent, but not in all cases. Some reversible examples of hearing loss might occur because of wax buildup in the ear canal, having something stuck in the ear canal, or having a perforation or infection in the eardrum.

What Causes Sudden Hearing Loss?

Sudden hearing loss can vary in severity and may be temporary or permanent. The specific cause isn’t known, but there are different theories as to what causes it including stress, viral infections, or circulatory disorders. Certain metabolic disorders could cause it, as could autoimmune diseases and thrombosis in the inner ear.

What Causes Hearing Loss in One Ear?

One of the most common reasons for hearing loss in one ear is an infection. Hearing loss in one ear is called unilateral hearing loss, and it can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause. If the hearing loss is severe, it can be called single-sided deafness or SSD.

What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs because of damage to hair-like cells that are found in the inner ear. There can be different causes of damage-related hearing loss including aging, certain diseases and exposure to loud noises. Certain medications can also lead to sensorineural hearing loss, or it can be genetic.

What Is Conductive Hearing Loss?

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there’s something that’s affecting how sound waves are conducted through the ear. With conductive hearing loss, sounds can’t make it from the outer ear and through the middle ear to the inner ear. Causes can include infections, fluid in the inner ear, or swimmer’s ear.

How Much Hearing Loss Requires a Hearing Aid?

Mild hearing loss usually means the quietest sounds heard are between 25 and 40 dB. Moderate hearing loss means the quietest sounds are heard between 40 and 70 dB, and for severe hearing loss, it’s between 70 and 95 dB. In these situations, a person might benefit from a hearing amplifier or a hearing aid.

How to Tell If You Have Hearing Loss

Signs of hearing loss can include having problems following conversations and listeningto televisions or music at a high volume. You may feel people are mumbling. It can be especially hard to hear in loud environments. A hearing test can be done professionally to determine the extent of hearing loss.

What Percent of Hearing Loss Qualifies for Disability?

To qualify for disability someone would need a hearing threshold on average of 90 dB or greater in their better ear, and a conduction hearing threshold of 60 dB or greater in the better ear or have a word recognition score of 40 percent or less in the better ear.