Make Listening Safe

By Sloan Blanton

Our ears are one of our most precious commodities. With our ears we are able to communicate with our peers, enjoy the beauty of music, tune into the natural world around us and become aware of safety hazards, such as sirens. Some people are born without the ability to hear, and for thousands of years those individuals lived without any legitimate hearing solutions. In the past 150 years, numerous technological advancements have emerged, providing hearing assistance through the use of hearing aids, assistive listening devices, cochlear implants, and more.

However, today's increasingly industrialized society poses a new risk. A growing number of people are prone to noise-induced hearing loss. Our smartphones and personal audio devices increase our vulnerability, especially when we are tuned in for extended periods of time. Concerts, nightclubs, and sporting events make us prone to hearing loss as well.

For all of these reasons and more, the First International Conference on Prevention and Rehabilitation of Hearing Impairment established the annual International Ear Care Day in 2007. The event is held on March 3 each year to build advocacy and promote hearing care in countries all around the world. This year's theme is: "Make Listening Safe."

The World Health Organization (WHO) works closely with this event, releasing an annual assessment of each country's status in providing quality ear care services. This year, the WHO found startling numbers to be true about the state of hearing loss in the world; over 1.1 billion young adults ages 12 to 35 are at risk for "recreational hearing loss." In this age group, 43 million people currently deal with the unfortunate effects of hearing loss, whether it is noise-induced or through birth defects or illnesses. Recreational hearing loss leads to many harmful effects. Physical and mental health can be affected, as well as employment and education opportunities. Hearing loss may also lead to attention-seeking behaviors and learning disabilities.

“As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss,” says Dr. Etienne Krug, the director of the WHO’s Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence, and Injury Prevention. “They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back. Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk.”

Both intensity and duration affect safe listening levels. The safe level at 85 decibels (dB) is eight hours of continual exposure. The number drops drastically at 100 dB to just 15 minutes. Exposure to these loud sounds usually leads to temporary hearing loss and a ringing sensation in the ear (tinnitus). When the exposure is particularly loud, regular, or prolonged, it can lead to permanent hearing loss and a lack of speech comprehension, and is damaging the ear's sensory cells. High-frequency sounds are typically the first to be impacted.

To reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss, set the volume on your personal audio device to no greater than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Wear earplugs in bars, at sporting events, and in other loud places. Even using headphones allows sound to be customized for individual listeners. Take short breaks while in loud environments to reduce the harmful effects of noise exposure, such as avoiding loudspeakers.

By having one’s ears checked regularly, individuals are able to monitor the onset of hearing loss before it becomes a serious concern. There are also many smartphone apps that provide useful information regarding volume levels to inform users of whether they are exposing their precious ears to risky sound levels.

Hearing Health Foundation is a proud supporter and partner of International Ear Care Day. It is worth marking on your calendar in an effort to curb the trend of noise-induced hearing loss while encouraging mankind to develop lasting solutions to lifelong problems.

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