It’s a topic near and dear to my heart; your hearing health.
It’s so exciting that concerts and movies and all kinds of fun, loud, exciting performances are making their way back into our schedules. The energy of being at a live music event, the collective experience of watching a summer blockbuster in the theater, the awe of watching an incredible performance on the stage, it’s been a long time coming.
But with the reopening of these kinds of events, it means that we will also be exposing our ears to a level of volume and noise that we haven’t experienced in a while. And those volume and noise levels play an important role and risk in your hearing acuity. Studies now show that up to 24% of adults under the age of 70 have hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to loud volume.
As a mom to a daughter who has significant hearing loss, walking this journey with my child has definitely made me more thoughtful about hearing health and how we don’t always do the best job protecting the hearing that we have. While my daughter’s hearing loss is a congenital one and not due to what is known as NIHL, noise-induced hearing loss, for many people NIHL is one of the most common culprits when it comes to how people damage their hearing. Anytime we expose our sense of hearing to loud levels of sound, we risk damaging the cilia in our ears, the fine hairs that conduct sound waves.
If you’ve ever attended a concert and then had a muffled ringing in your ears afterward, you’ve had an overexposure to sound at a volume level that is too loud. Research has shown that extended or repeated exposure to sound at 85 decibels or above, known as dbA, can lead to hearing loss. And all of our devices and earphones and airpods add to the risk as so many of us, myself included, like to blast our music via our headphones during workouts and chores.
It’s helpful to know what some common decibel outputs are for various inputs. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has the following chart on their website that provides a handy guide. For example:
Normal conversation – 60-70 dBA
Movie theater – 74-104 dBA
Motorcyles and dirt bikes – 80-110 dBA
Music through headphones at maximum volume, sporting events, and concerts – 94-110 dBA
Sirens – 110-129 dBA
Fireworks show – 140-160 dBA
So does this mean that you need to avoid your favorite concerts or skip that fireworks show? No, not at all. But it does mean that you’ll want to be prepared if the decibels start pegging over what is healthy for your hearing.
The ear is the avenue to the heart. ~Voltaire
I like to have an app on my phone that can allow me to measure what the sound levels are in the environment of the event I’m attending. You can find free sound meter apps for your Android or Apple iPhone. By utilizing the app on my phone, I can see for myself exactly what sound levels I’m being exposed to, rather than relying on how I think the sound level ‘feels.’ This is important, because we can become accustomed to a higher volume level without realizing it. If you’re waiting for a sound level to become uncomfortable before you take measures to protect your hearing, you could be waiting too late.
We also pack foam ear plugs to take with us to sporting events, concerts, anywhere that a crowd or a band might bring a lot of noise. (You can find some great suggestions for ear plugs from Medical News Today.) At first, I felt a little silly shoving ear plugs into my ears when the sound levels started going north of 70 dbA. But first of all, who cares what anybody thinks of my ear plugs? And second, retaining my hearing is far more important to me than avoiding a few smirks or stares from my fellow concert or sporting event spectators.
A third strategy for protecting your hearing is one that requires honest self-monitoring. It’s your headphones you’re using to blast your 80s pop hits and history podcasts. We are a nation of people on our devices, headphones in, all the time. And many of us are cranking up those headphones at levels that keep our ears exposed to 85 dbA all day long. While there isn’t yet an app available that can exactly measure what level of decibels your ears are being exposed to through your headphones, a good rule of thumb is to look at your volume control on your device. If you’ve got the volume set at about 60% or below, you’re probably in a good spot for your ears. But if you are consistently using your headphones at a volume level above that 60% mark, you’re at risk for NIHL, no concert or sporting event necessary. Make it a habit to turn your headphones a tick or two as you’re listening.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear. ~Matthew 11:15
Finally, make sure you’re getting consistent hearing tests to monitor how your ears are doing. Your healthcare provider can provide a simple hearing test during your annual checkup and can advise you if further steps are needed to determine your hearing health. And certain memberships with Altrua HealthShare have access to significant discounts for hearing aid technology and care.
The health of your hearing is something many of us don’t think about until we start noticing that it’s getting hard to hear people in crowded situations or if our music doesn’t sound quite as crisp. Start today to take your hearing health seriously. Monitor the sound levels in the events you attend. Pack those ear plugs. Turn down the headphones. Your hearing is an important part of your overall health; we are finding significant correlation between hearing loss and dementia. Take care of your hearing today to also take care of your future brain. It’s an investment in yourself that can make a big difference down the line.
Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund. You can learn more about Julie’s experience with her daughter’s hearing loss here.
Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions regarding a medical condition.