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Sounds and noises make the world interesting and vibrant. And sound can help us switch off too. But how do we keep our hearing safe? Read on for our tips from the experts.
With our headphones on, we can disappear into a podcast or relaxing music, or isolate ourselves on a crowded train. But such sound can damage our hearing too.
Today, 466 million people live with disabling hearing loss.* And the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2050, 900 million of the global population could have hearing loss.*
That’s why WHO has published a new report called Make Listening Safe, which sets out to help you avoid noise-induced hearing loss.
So how can you ensure listening is safe? Here is some advice and information from the experts.
We love our headphones
We all love our devices. These days, it’s normal to see people with earbuds in their ears or giant headphones on their heads. They let us be in our own worlds without bothering others, while we learn or relax.
However, it’s important to keep the volume down to a safe level. According to the WHO, the sound intensity produced in headsets can reach the same level as a rock concert. In fact, 1.1 billion young people worldwide are also at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices*.
Safe listening tip: If your device has a coloured indicator to show when the volume is approaching dangerous levels, ensure you aren’t in the red.
What is a safe headphone volume level?
So what is safe listening? Safe listening levels depend on different things, but we’ll start with volume levels.
At the lower end, in green, we have safe sounds like a normal conversation or a vacuum cleaner.
Eighty-five decibels is the level that may start to impair hearing after a long exposure to continuous sound. The output of personal audio devices may range from 75 dB to as high as 136 dB.
Safe listening tip: Download a sound level app for your smartphone to get an indication of the sound level where you are.
It’s not just volume, it’s the duration
When sound levels get up to 85 decibels – the level of a busy road – the amount of time that you are exposed to it starts to matter.
The maximum safe exposure time is eight hours below 85 decibels.
But once the sound level gets up to the 104 dB produced in some nightclubs and bars, and by some power tools such as chainsaws, it takes just 15 minutes before you are at risk of hearing damage.
Safe listening tip: When listening with earphones for long periods of time, be especially careful to ensure the volume level is safe.
Are there warning signs for hearing loss?
Wouldn’t it be good if we could feel when our hearing was in danger? Unfortunately, there’s no reliable way to know for sure if you are in danger of hearing loss. However, there are some warning signs that you definitely shouldn’t ignore.
3 warning signs that your hearing can be in danger
- Ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus. If your ears are ringing or whining after a loud event, it’s a clear indication they have been exposed to high volume sound.
What is tinnitus?
- Another warning sign is ‘muffled’ hearing, known as temporary hearing loss. This can occur after a loud event such as a music concert, or going to the cinema, or even a fitness class.
What is hearing loss?
- Surrounding sounds may be too loud if you and the people around you need to raise your voice to make yourselves understood.
Safe listening tip: If you notice any of these warning signs, avoid loud noises until your hearing has returned to normal, and use hearing protection the next time you put yourself in a similar situation.
3 ways to prevent hearing loss
Great news. Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. You simply need to stay aware of your noise exposure and try to minimize it whenever it approaches dangerous levels.
- Use well fitted earphones and noise cancelling headphones
Because a good fit stops sound leaking out, it allows you to hear your chosen audio clearly without having to turn the volume up towards dangerous levels.
- Wear earplugs (and fit them correctly)
If you know you are going to be in a noisy place or doing a noisy activity, wear earplugs. Well inserted earplugs can help to reduce the level of exposure considerably, by up to 45 decibels.
Protect your hearing
- Take listening breaks
Whether you’re at a loud venue or absorbing an audiobook during a long flight, it’s a good idea to give your ears a rest from time to time. This reduces your continuous exposure and gives your ears a chance to recover.
And finally … monitor your hearing health
A hearing test lets you see how you are hearing now. This gives you peace of mind and gives you insights into any listening challenges you may not be aware of. Regular hearing tests allow you and your hearing care professional to track how your hearing develops over time, and treat it appropriately.
Find your nearest hearing care professional
*World Health Organisation (WHO), Deafness and Hearing Loss Fact Sheet – March 2018