House Research Institute, a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with hearing loss and related disorders, has outlined five ways musicians and music fans can preserve their hearing.
1) Know thyself: have your hearing tested.
Often, hearing loss issues are initially detected by family and friends rather than the person experiencing it. “When a person frequently has trouble understanding conversations in places where there is significant background noise, such as at parties, crowded restaurants and clubs, it might be a good time for a hearing test and an ear examination,” observes John W. House, MD, President of House Research Institute and physician at the House Clinic. Find out where you stand so you can understand and address the personal risks you may face – hearing exams take just minutes. Noise induced hearing loss begins in the higher frequencies and does not affect speech frequencies until it is advanced. Therefore, a screening audiogram is advised for those who are exposed to loud noise.
2) Know thy surroundings: avoid potentially dangerous environments
By ensuring you are in a safe listening environment, you mitigate the risk of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). “If you have to raise your voice to be heard, you are likely in an environment with sound levels exceeding 85 dBA,” says Marilee Potthoff, Director of Community Outreach and Education at House Research Institute. Musicians and engineers depend on good hearing for their careers, but also are at high risk for hearing damage from prolonged sound exposure on the job. If you’re in the sound industry, it’s important for your hearing health to carefully monitor your sound environments that reach above 85 dBA both on and off the job, and know how much to limit your exposure. When relaxing with your personal stereo or player, we recommend keeping the volume setting at no louder than 60 percent of maximum potential.
** 3) Use it or lose it: make the right choices in hearing protection**
Educate yourself on what kind of hearing protection is truly effective. “Select hearing protection devices that provide the appropriate amount of sound reduction. Hearing protection with an NRR (noise reduction rating) of around 25 to 35 dB offers better protection for loud music environments than devices with lower NRRs. Using devices with a much lower NRR may result in significant damage to the inner ear when exposed to high level [loud] sounds,” says Andrew Vermiglio, AuD, HRI Research Audiologist and California State University Northridge Audiology Professor. Some custom ear plugs – which are available through licensed audiology clinics, including the House Clinic – offer a flatter attenuation across the frequency range and may make listening to loud music more enjoyable than standard, over-the-counter earplugs, such as foam or pre-molded plugs. Standard earplugs tend to “colourize” what you hear by filtering the high frequencies more than the low frequencies.
** 4) Keep it clean: Ears need good hygiene, too**
Earwax may not be the most popular discussion topic in the world, but it is certainly worth knowing about. Knowing how to safely remove wax and dirt build up will help you keep your hearing on the right track in 2012 and beyond. “Never insert foreign objects into your ear canal, including cotton swabs – instead, use a warm washcloth to gently clean the outer area of your ears or an over the counter ear wax removal solution,” says Dr. House. Other ear cleaning methods known as ear candling or coning are dangerous, not effective, and can easily damage your ear canal.
5) Make a date: Have your ears checked on a regular basis
Have your hearing checked annually. If you notice a change in the state of your hearing, seek immediate medical attention. “Annual hearing exams may help to identify potential hearing loss issues while there is still time to rectify them,” says Vermiglio. Also, symptoms such as hearing loss, ringing in the ears, dizziness or loss of balance, may be related to a serious medical condition.
So whether you are a musician, or just enjoy listening to music with friends, follow these basic steps and put your hearing first in 2012 – because once you lose it, you may never be able to get it back. For more information, visit the House Research Institute website at http://www.houseresearch.org.