Protecting your ears and avoiding hearing problems

For anyone lucky enough to have grown up with strong hearing, the idea of having to use a hearing aid later in life may never have even registered. However, a whole generation of today's young people could be facing the early onset of hearing problems due to the loud noises they subject themselves to in everyday life.

Extremely loud noises can permanently damage the tiny hairs in the inner ear which capture the sound vibrations before they are turned into electrical impulses for the brain to process. But this does not have to be one, single sonic-boom like explosion of sound - persistent exposure to loud noises can have a lasting impact on these hairs and cause permanent degenerative hearing loss. Music from increasingly-powerful headphones, loud gigs and club nights with more advanced sound systems means that today's youth are seemingly more at risk than any other generation of developing hearing problems due to excessive noise.

How much noise is too much, exactly? The volume of a sound is measured in decibels, and if you are struggling to understand someone speaking in a normal voice when standing just a few feet away because of the background noise, then you're probably being exposed to more than 90 decibels. Frequently asking your ear to process 90-decibel sounds can lead to permanent damage. That slight ringing sound you have in your ears when you're trying to get to sleep? If you're experiencing that a few times a week you're also doing damage.

Since avoiding clubs and gigs is not really an option in many social groups, what can you do to reduce the chance of damage?

Ear plugs
You may want to consider some discrete ear plugs. Most gigs are dark places and the plugs can fit inside the canal so will be not be noticeable to most people, yet will protect your ears.

Earphones which insert into the ear canal are increasingly popular in partnership with a portable listening device. However, these are not very good at keeping out background noise, meaning you have to turn up the volume to hear your music. Over-ear headphones block out much more background noise, meaning you can enjoy music at a level which is much kinder to your ears.

Reduce your exposure
As has been discussed above, repeated listening to moderately loud noise can a lasting impact on your hearing, so consider whether you need to expose your ears to this quite so regularly - give your ears some rest!

If you do become concerned about your hearing, however, do not ignore it - there are many reasons why hearing loss can begin to develop, and early diagnosis can, in some cases, avoid permanent damage. Booking a free hearing test with a specialist is advisable should you have any concern about the health of your ears.

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