Though what we recognize as Better Speech and Hearing Month received its current moniker in 1972, the idea of designating a month to the promotion and awareness of communication issues, their impacts and available treatments began in 1927.
Today, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association sponsors this month-long advocacy campaign annually in May. This year’s theme, Connecting People, truly touches upon the ways in which this long standing effort can connect people to the importance of their hearing health.
Hearing loss in young people
The risk of hearing loss in people younger than 65 years old has become so prevalent that the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued both special warnings and updated guidance towards recommended noise level exposure.
The WHO estimates that half of persons between the ages of 12 and 35 years old — more than 1 billion young people worldwide — are at risk for hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices.
Noise-induced hearing loss
While the current most common indicator of hearing loss is age, that might change if we don’t rethink our everyday sound practices. Regardless of age, too-loud noise can permanently damage your hearing. When we are exposed to extremely loud sounds, all at once or slowly over time, we harm the sensitive inner ear cells that play a profound role in our hearing experience. This type of hearing loss is referred to as noise-induced.
The inner ear cells do a lot of heavy lifting in helping us hear the world around us. They receive noise from the external world and transform it into sound information which is then sent to the brain’s processing centers. In our brains, this sound information takes on meaning.
When we are repeatedly exposed to too-loud sounds, like earbuds cranked to maximum volumes, those inner ear cells are harmed. A sudden, violently loud noise can have the same effect. When they are damaged, those cells neither repair themselves nor reproduce. The result is that we are able to turn less of the world’s noise into sound information and we experience hearing loss.
But our ears evolved to hear sounds much quieter than the volumes of today’s world. We are equipped to easily hear sounds as low as 20 decibels, such as the rustling of leaves. Typically conversation ranges from 50-60 decibels. And, we can withstand volumes of 85 decibels for long periods of time and up to eight hours without risking our hearing health.
However, once we cross the threshold of 85 decibels, we can begin to damage our hearing health. It’s recommended that we limit our exposure to louder sounds and as the decibels rise, the window of safety closes.
At 100 decibels, we should limit exposure to 15 minutes. Over 100 decibels, we are advised to severely limit exposure time to less than two minutes.
Common sources of too-loud noise
It should be simple to protect our hearing, knowing that loud sounds damage its health. But, the world is much louder than the recommended 85 decibels. Even a crowded restaurant can easily peak at 95 decibels.
Of particular concern is headphones or ear buds, now that so much of our time is spent plugged in. Before, headphones were used by music professionals in the studio (and have since shown significant damage to those people’s hearing) or by people recreationally listening to music. Today, we plug into devices to stream entertainment, play games, go to school, participate in meetings, and the occasional phone call.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the volumes of these devices often reach 110 decibels when played at the highest volume. The NIH even warns that “110 dBA (decibels) is more than 100 times as intense as 85 decibels.”
How to protect your hearing health
So how can you protect your hearing health? Investigate and practice safe listening habits. You can monitor your typical volume exposure using the ‘Health’ app on your iphone. If that isn’t available to you, use the analog safety method of keeping the volume at or below halfway and never exceed two-thirds of maximum volume.
Schedule a hearing consultation today
If you feel that your life is impacted by hearing loss, don’t wait for a diagnosis any longer than you have to. Schedule a hearing consultation with our team today, where we’ll lead you through a simple hearing exam and explain our findings. Together, we’ll create a plan to get you back to your healthiest hearing possible.