According to Action on Hearing Loss one in six people in the UK suffer from hearing loss, which equates to 11 million people altogether.
With so many people suffering from hearing loss, charities are working hard to raise awareness around what damages a person’s hearing and how they can avoid these things to help look after their hearing. Here, we describe some of our top tips for keeping your hearing in top condition and how to take preventative action to stop problems with hearing becoming any worse.
What types of sounds damage hearing?
Any sound over 85dB is potentially damaging to hearing. To put that in perspective, a healthy human ear can hear sounds at 0dB and upwards. Something like a whisper is around 30dB, a normal conversation is 60 DB and a vacuum cleaner is 70dB. Louder and potentially damaging sounds include a lawnmower at 90dB, music from a phone or MP3 player at 105dB and fire alarms at 130dB.
How loud sounds damage your hearing
The inside of your ear is lined with thousands of cells called ‘hair cells’. These are really sensitive cells which pick up sounds waves and convert them into electrical signals, which the nerves in your ear then send to your brain.
For your brain to decipher what the sound is, your hair cells need to convey the correct signals. For example, there’s a big difference between a dog barking and a child crying, but if these are a similar pitch, damaged hair cells could have trouble picking up the correct signals.
How hair cells are damaged
When your ears are exposed to loud noises, the hair cells are damaged in a similar way to a person trampling over small flowers. One moment they’re healthy and standing up, the next they’re completely flattened. And whilst some of the flowers might survive, if someone continues to trample on them or leave heavy objects on them, the damage will become permanent, just like exposing your hair cells to loud noises regularly or over long periods of time will cause permanent damage.
Signs that you are damaging your hearing
You might start to notice that sounds become more dull or harder to hear if your hearing has become temporarily or permanently damaged. Take a look at our article on the signs of hearing loss for a closer look at how to tell if you’re damaging your hearing.
Ways to look after your hearing
Here are some of the best ways to protect your hearing in everyday life situations:
Whether you’re exposed to loud sounds at work or of your own volition, earplugs are an excellent way to protect your hearing. Even if you’re going to a gig or nightclub, there are earplugs that are specially made to not muffle sounds, which means you can still enjoy the music without damaging your ears.
Take a break from loud noises
If you haven’t got any earplugs with you and are exposed to loud music at work or on a night out, take regular breaks away from the source of noise. This could be 15 minutes to do something else at work or a trip to a quieter bar area or even outside, away from speakers in a night club.
Give your ears plenty of time to rest
Research from Action on Hearing Loss suggests that after spending two hours in an environment where the sound is at 100dB, your ears will need a minimum of 16 hours to recover. Ideally this recovery needs to take place in a very quiet place, where you won’t be exposed to further loud noises.
Use noise-cancelling headphones
If you’re listening to your own music or watching a film using headphones, it’s worthwhile investing in noise-cancelling headphones. These will make your listening experience better by blocking out external sounds, which in turn makes it quiet enough for you to hear whatever is playing through your headphones without turning the volume up to a dangerous level.
An NHS recommendation suggests that MP3 players should not be used to play music at more than 60% of the maximum volume, for longer than 60% of the day.
Keep your ears dry
Moisture that collects within your ear can cause bacteria to develop and cause infections like swimmer’s ear. For more information about swimmer’s ear and how to tell if you have it, see our article about swimmer’s ear and hearing loss.
One way to keep your ears dry during water sports is to use specialist earplugs, which will stop water from entering your ear canal. Ask us if you would like to try these.
Don’t use cotton swabs
Not only are the plastic varieties bad for the environment, cotton swabs and cotton buds can cause damage and blockages within your ears if you use them inside your ear canal. Also, think back to the flattened flowers – if you’re (unintentionally) pushing wax further into your ear, your hair cells could become damaged.
Hearing aids won’t block out harmful sounds but some varieties can be used to control the volume of things that they allow you to hear. For example, if you use a hearing aid to hear high pitched noises like women’s and children’s voices and they are speaking loudly, it is often possible to use the volume settings of your hearing aid to make sure it isn’t making their voices too loud and therefore potentially damaging to your hearing.
Advice about looking after your hearing
For advice from an expert audiologist, contact us via telephone on 0116 254 3909 or email us at [email protected]