Protect your ears from permanent hearing loss

2023.10.17 - Dr Pak

Our world can be loud, and every day, we’re exposed to harmful levels of noise that can damage our ears. From power tools, to alarms, traffic, and music, these noises are a normal part of life. However, did you know that there are simple steps you can take today to protect your hearing for years to come?

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month, so we spoke with Dr. Karen Pak, an audiologist with Dignity Health Woodland Clinic, who shares important insights on noise-induced hearing loss.

How can I tell If I’m damaging my hearing?
Have you ever left a concert and heard ringing in your ears? Do you find yourself turning up the volume, or leaning in closer just to hear and understand your friend speak?

Hearing loss affects approximately 48 million Americans, and while this can be more common among aging adults, people of all ages experience hearing loss.

When you’re exposed to loud noises, like at a concert or sporting event, you may find that when you leave you hear ringing in your ears and reduced hearing. If it goes away after a few hours or days, you just experienced a temporary threshold shift (TTS), or temporary hearing loss. Repeated TTS can lead to permanent threshold shift (PTS), which is a permanent loss of your hearing. 

Everyone has a different TTS and PTS range when exposed to dangerous levels of sound. Once damage is done to your hearing, there is no reversing it.

How can I tell If I’m somewhere that could damage my hearing?
Most people don’t have access to a sound level meter to measure how loud their environment is. A quick way to estimate if the environment is too loud is to use your arms. If you’re an arms length away (about 3 feet) from someone and they need to raise their voice for you to hear them, that environment may be a hazardous noise level. However, that doesn’t mean you need to leave immediately. OSHA says you may be able to be in this environment for approximately 8 hours before you start incurring hearing loss. The louder the environment, the shorter time you have before possibly incurring a hearing loss.

What are easy steps I can take to protect my hearing?
Your ears need to last your entire life. I recommend that everyone use hearing protection when near loud sounds and avoid long exposure to these sounds. Below are some additional tips to help you in different settings:

  • When attending a concert, consider using hearing protection designed for listening to music. If you’re a music enthusiast, you can see an audiologist to get custom ear plugs made with special filters so they fit properly, and don’t compromise the quality or sound of the music. You can also find over-the-counter musician earplugs with filters if you are on a budget.
  • When listening to music/podcasts with headphones, ask yourself, could I lower the volume? It is also important to use well-fitting headphones that reduce competing or environmental noise which might make you want to turn up the volume. This may be easier to achieve with over-the-ear headphones versus in-ear earbuds as they tend to fit most people better. Some headphones and mobile devices may have settings that let you limit sound levels. If so, this should be set at 85dB or lower.
  • If you’re using power tools, use hearing protection consistently and properly. 

Key Takeaways 
You can lose your hearing at any age and hearing loss is permanent. If you want to enjoy your hearing for a long time, protect it every time you’re near loud sounds even if it is only for a short duration.

You can continue to go to concerts and enjoy your favorite artists, mow your lawn, and watch firework displays. There are many ways you can protect your hearing, including turning the volume down, taking breaks from the noise, or using hearing protection.

If you’re interested in getting your hearing checked, you can schedule an appointment with an audiologist. Our “Find a Doctor” tool can help you find a Dignity Health Medical Group provider near you.

Meet Karen Pak, AuD


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