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While you may associate October with the pumpkin-flavored mania that overtakes even the best of us, it’s also an important month in terms of your hearing health. Designated as Protect Your Hearing Month, October is a great time to do an inventory of your current hearing health and investigate behaviors that may be unhealthy in the long term.
For instance, now more than ever we are plugged into personal devices and virtual meetings. Many of us access this through earbuds. And while earbuds are ubiquitous, are they 100% safe for our ears? Some experts warn that using earbuds extensively may put our hearing health in danger, as we are exposed to volumes that contribute to noise-induced hearing loss.
What is noise-induced hearing loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when the cells of the inner ear become damaged due to too-loud sounds. As age can cause decay in the fine inner ear cells responsible for collecting sound information before it is transmitted to the brain, noise can also be so dangerously loud that it causes destruction or damage to these delicate cells.
The inner ear cells are non-regenerative, which means that once they cease to work properly, our bodies don’t work to repair them or reproduce new ones. We are born with a finite quality of these important cells and part of our job in maintaining healthy hearing is to protect them.
Noise damage can happen all of a sudden, in a violent event like an accident or explosion. People typically notice the symptoms of hearing loss in these cases immediately. However, noise damage can also occur slowly and over time. This is possible when the levels of noise are too loud, but not noticeably so. With repeated exposure, the process of hearing loss is more subtle. The first signs of this type of noise-induced hearing loss may appear as having difficulty understanding what people around you are saying or that you’re maxing out the volumes on all your devices.
How loud is too loud?
The medical community may debate whether earbuds and our near constant connectivity will bring about a plague of hearing loss in the future, but they all agree that anything over 85 decibels is too loud. Perhaps of note to people who conduct leisure and business on their devices is the fact that earbud noise levels can easily reach between 85 and 110 decibels.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has long held that standard for noise exposure for workers. It remains the level at which workers can be exposed to within an eight hour shift. Anything over those noise levels must be mitigated by other safety interventions, like frequent breaks, noise partitions or soundproof earwear.
Use your phone to monitor your earbud decibels
Most smartphones have an app already installed that maintains a log of your earbud decibel levels. On iphones, you can access this by clicking on the ‘Health’ app. Android users can use the Sound Meter app and place their earbuds next to the phone’s mic.
Try to keep levels between 60 and 85 decibels to ensure that you aren’t damaging your hearing by plugging into your phone. That goes for wireless earbud users, too! There might be certain scenarios that require a louder volume — say your favorite jam just has to be enjoyed at maximum volume to get you through the end of your workout. If that’s the case, just make sure that the duration of these high volumes doesn’t extend beyond 15 minutes.
Other ways to protect your hearing health
If you don’t have a way to measure the decibels emitted by your headphones, you can do a manual test. As your headphones are at your preferred volume, take them out and hold them in front of you about a foot from your face. Can you still hear the music or movie dialogue clearly? If so, they’re a bit too loud, so turn the volume down for the sake of your hearing health. An even quicker rule of thumb is to not go higher than two thirds of maximum volume.
Don’t use earbud volume to drown out sounds around you. If you are mowing the grass, on an airplane or in a busy cafe, invest in soundproof headphones. These are built to eliminate external noise. Your earbuds were not designed for such use and using them as such will only hurt your hearing health.
Schedule a hearing consultation today
Culturally, we are more likely to have good habits monitoring our other senses. Americans are more likely to have undergone a vision test, for instance, than a hearing exam. But you can begin to partake in healthier hearing habits as soon as today. Schedule a hearing consultation to determine the state of your current hearing health. Our team of hearing health professionals is ready to assist you through a quick and easy exam and guide you towards any hearing solutions that might enrich your hearing experience.