How to Protect Your Hearing

Three Parts:Understanding Hearing LossPreventing Noise-Related Hearing LossAvoiding Other Causes of Hearing Damage

Hearing is one of our most important senses — it allows us to communicate, to learn, and to enjoy things like music and conversation. However, many people don't realize that they may be exposing their ears to a huge amount of potentially damaging noise (and other factors) on a daily basis. It's important to protect your hearing from noise and other damaging factors.

Part 1
Understanding Hearing Loss

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    Understand noise-related hearing loss. Frequent or prolonged exposure to loud noises is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, despite the fact that this type of hearing loss is completely preventable.
    • Our brain registers sound thanks to a spiral-shaped organ in the inner ear called the cochlea. The cochlea is covered in thousands of tiny hairs which register sound vibrations and turn them into electrical impulses to be processed by the brain.
    • When your ears are exposed to loud noises, these tiny hairs can become damaged, resulting in hearing loss. Although short, intense noises (like fireworks or a gunshot) are sometimes the cause, the most common cause is regular exposure to excessive noise (listening to music too loudly, working in a noisy environment).
    • It's important to realize that once this type of hearing damage occurs, it cannot be reversed. Therefore it is very important to take measures to protect your hearing before it's too late.[1]
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    Learn to recognize potentially dangerous noise levels. A large part of protecting your hearing is learning to recognize potentially dangerous noise levels. Then you will have a better idea of what to avoid.
    • Prolonged exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels is considered to be damaging to your hearing. To give you an idea of where 85 decibels lies on the scale:
      • Normal conversation: 60 to 65 dB
      • Motorcycle or lawnmower: 85 to 95 dB
      • Music at a nightclub: 110 dB
      • MP3 player at maximum volume: 112 dB
      • Ambulance siren: 120 dB
    • Taking measures to reduce noise levels by just a few decibels can be hugely beneficial for your ears. This is due to the fact that every 3 dB increase in the noise level effectively doubles the amount of sound energy being released.
    • As a result, the amount of time you can safely spend listening to a certain sound rapidly decreases the louder the sound is. For example, you can safely spend up to eight hours listening to an 85 dB sound, but you should only spend 15 minutes exposed to noise levels above 100 dB.
    • If you can't hold a conversation with someone who is standing two meters away from you without shouting, the noise level is damaging to your ears.
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    See a specialist if you suspect hearing damage. If you are having any trouble with your hearing or are experiencing ear pain, it's a good idea to consult a specialist.
    • Depending on the issue, you may need to see an ear, nose and throat doctor (an Otolaryngologist), or a licensed audiologist.
    • Each of these will perform a series of tests to determine whether your hearing has been damaged.
    • While there is no cure for hearing damage, hearing aids can ease the problem by magnifying sounds as they enter your ear. Of course, they are expensive and may not always work, so it's important to protect your hearing.

Part 2
Preventing Noise-Related Hearing Loss

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    Turn down the music. Listening to loud music through earphones has been identified as one of the major causes of hearing loss in young people.
    • The volume on your MP3 player is too high if it completely drowns out all background noise, or if it feels uncomfortable to listen to. Switch to headphones instead of earphones, as these provide better sound quality at a lower volume.
    • Try to follow the 60/60 rule when listening to music on an MP3 player. This means you should listen to music at no more than 60% of your music player's maximum volume, for no more than 60 minutes at a time.
    • You also need to be careful when listening to music in enclosed spaces, such as in a car. Turning the volume dial down just a couple of notches can make a huge difference to your hearing.[2]
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    Protect your hearing at work. Some workplaces can be described as "hazardous sound environments," where workers are exposed to loud noises for prolonged periods of time. This includes work environments such as factories with noisy machinery and construction sites.
    • Nowadays, most workplaces have to follow strict regulations to protect their employees' hearing. Workers are required to wear noise canceling ear muffs or earplugs if the average daily noise level is above 85 decibels.
    • However, people who are self-employed are responsible for their own hearing, so don't forget to wear hearing protection if you're doing activities like mowing the lawn or doing home improvements.
    • If you are concerned about the noise levels in your workplace, speak to an occupational health and safety officer or to someone in the human resources department.
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    Be careful at live concerts and shows. Attending concerts or shows where you're exposed to loud, live music can be damaging to your hearing. For example, many people experience a ringing sound in their ears after leaving a concert, which should be taken as a warning sign.
    • To protect your ears while listening to live music, strategically position yourself away from any amplifiers, speakers or stage monitors. The further away you are from the source of the sound, the better.
    • Take "quiet breaks." If you're spending the night at a music bar or club, try to go outside for five minutes every hour. Just giving your ears a break from the constant noise exposure will do them some good.
    • Another alternative is to wear earplugs while you listen to live music. This can reduce the sound levels by 15 to 35 decibels, but shouldn't muffle your hearing or affect your enjoyment of the concert.
    • If you are a musician yourself, try to avoid practicing at full performance volume and wear earplugs while playing, if possible.
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    Protect your baby or child's hearing. If you are pregnant, it's important to avoid loud noises because a fetus's hearing can be damaged in utero. Similarly, young babies and children have thin skulls and developing ears, and are very sensitive to loud noises.
    • If you are pregnant, avoid loud concerts or workplace noise that exceeds 85 dB (about the level of a motorcycle engine), which has been linked to hearing loss in children. Loud noises during pregnancy has also been linked to a low birth weight and preterm delivery.[3]
    • Newborns should never be exposed to sudden loud noises. Noise above 80 dB has been linked to hearing loss and infant anxiety.
    • Young children have more sensitive hearing than adults, so if an environment seems loud to you, it is even louder to your child. Buy protective headphones or earplugs or avoid loud environments like rock concerts or front row seats at the fireworks display.[4]

Part 3
Avoiding Other Causes of Hearing Damage

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    Be careful with ototoxic drugs and chemicals. Ototoxic drugs and chemicals are those which have the potential to damage your hearing.
    • The most common ototoxic drugs include salicylates (such as aspirin) and anti-malarial drugs. Industrial strength chemical solvents have also been linked with hearing loss.
    • To avoid hearing damage caused by drugs and chemicals, take all medications as directed and report any unusual side effects to your doctor.
    • If you work with chemical solvents, talk to your occupational health and safety officer about the preventative measures you can take.[5]
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    Protect yourself from diseases which can lead to hearing loss. There are quite a number of illnesses and diseases which can lead to hearing loss. The most common of these are: measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, meningitis and syphilis.
    • The best way to avoid hearing loss caused by these diseases is to avoid contracting these diseases in the first place.
    • Get babies and children vaccinated and see a doctor immediately when you fall ill, as prompt diagnosis and treatment can prevent the development of more serious complications like hearing loss.
    • Avoid STDs like syphilis by wearing condoms during sex.[5]
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    Avoid head injuries. Damage to the middle and inner ear due to head injury or trauma can result in hearing loss. Therefore, it is important to protect yourself from head trauma in any way possible.
    • Always wear a helmet when riding a bike or playing any kind of contact sports, as even a concussion can negatively affect your hearing, and always wear a seatbelt when travelling by car
    • Protect your ears from otitic barotrauma (damage caused by changing air pressure) by taking all necessary precautions when scuba diving.
    • Prevent yourself from falling by being aware of safety at all times. For example, do not stand on the top rung of a ladder.
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    Don't try to clean out your ears. Many people attempt to clean out their ears using cotton buds. However, cotton buds simply pack earwax deeper into the ear, potentially damaging the thin, sensitive skin and negatively affecting your hearing.
    • Most people don't need to clean out their ears, as your ears need a certain amount of wax for protection and any excess will naturally be expelled.
    • But if you feel you have excess wax in your ears, you can get rid of it using an earwax removal kit. To use, place a couple of drops of earwax solution into your ears before bedtime, over the course of a couple of nights. The solution will soften the earwax, causing it to flow out naturally.[6]
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    Lead a healthy lifestyle. Making certain healthy lifestyle choices can help to protect your hearing and ward off hearing loss for years to come.
    • Get plenty of exercise. Cardio exercise like walking, running or cycling helps to improve blood flow to your ears, which is good for your hearing. It's even better if you can do your exercise somewhere nice and quiet, like the woods or a secluded beach, as this also gives your ears a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
    • Quit smoking. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who smoke (or are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke) are much more likely to experience age-related hearing loss.
    • Decrease your caffeine and sodium intake. Both caffeine and sodium can have a negative effect on your hearing -- caffeine decreases blood flow to the ears, while sodium increases fluid retention which can lead to swelling in the inner ear. Try switching to decaf coffee and tea and lowering your salt intake.[7]


  • If your eardrum is broken, you will feel very intense pain and you won't be able to hear anything on the side with the broken eardrum.
  • Foam earplugs are available at any drugstore. You squeeze the plug to compress it, then stick it in your ear. It will expand to fill your ear canal, muffling some sound. You will still be able to hear what's going on, just not as clearly. Earplugs only lower noise about 29 decibels. This is not enough to make you completely immune to really loud sounds.
  • You can protect your ears from infection by drying them after bathing. You should also avoid swimming in dirty water.
  • To avoid loud noise, try wearing "noise isolating" earphones; they are cheaper than noise canceling earphones. There's a difference –– noise canceling headphones or earphones create electronic sound waves to muffle the sound, whereas noise isolating earphones achieves it with a tighter fit, which muffles the sound naturally.
  • Use earmuffs along with a combination of cotton or earphones for more noise reduction.
  • The noise of a gun firing is much louder than it seems on television. Wear hearing protection if you are planning to shoot a gun.

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Categories: Ear Care