We Hear You Loud and Clear (or Maybe Not)

Take care of those ears — and listen to the diagnosis given to AC/DC's Brian Johnson

Johnson has been the lead singer with AC/DC since 1980 and if you’ve ever been to one of their shows, or any rock show for that matter, you know the volume can get loud. Prolonged and ongoing exposure to any noise at that level does permanent damage to our hearing. But it wasn’t music entirely that caused Johnson’s hearing loss. He said the time he’s spent behind the wheel of race cars is perhaps even more to blame.

Regardless of the exact cause, Johnson’s diagnosis may be an important reminder for the rest of us. While it’s unlikely you’re touring with a rock band (or sitting behind the wheel of a race car), the new class of surround-sound, over-the-ear, like-live headphones are prolific right now. We’re all wearing them and allowing ourselves and our children to listen to music and other audio at a level audiologists believe is detrimental to our long-term hearing.

Ear bud exposure isn’t any better. 

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One in eight people aged 12 or older currently has hearing loss in both ears. Very young children who have hearing loss can have delayed speech, speech that is difficult to decipher, or other cognitive delays, according to research this past year from the Centers for Disease Control.

In the adult population, hearing loss is routinely linked to feelings of social isolation, clinical depression, and even dementia.

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Here’s what you can do to protect yourself and your family.  

1.) Start Early.
A good option for infants and young children are hearing-protection ear muffs; they now come in a variety of sizes and colors. For infants, Baby Banz EarBanZ and Ems for Bubs are two possible options. Ems has a soft cloth strap that is very comfortable. Older children and adults have a variety of good ear muffs or plugs available. If your child has a history of frequent ear infections, talk to your pediatrician about the option best for you.  

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2.) Be Consistent.
Use hearing protection for loud events in the same way you would use a helmet for action sports. Keep ear plugs with you in case the family ends up at an event that is louder than you expected (think concert, action flick, or sporting event).

3.) Get Educated.
Download an app to your smartphone to check the decibel (dB) level of your surroundings. Sound Meter Pro and Decibel 10th — Professional Noise Meter are two apps with near – star consumer ratings. And having the app won’t mean a thing unless you remember this: Hearing damage can occur at volumes of 90dB or higher. The acceptable standard for adults is to limit exposure to 85dB noise to a maximum of 8 hours per day. Spare yourself too much noise.

4.) Practice self-control.
The volume on most earbuds easily exceeds 100dB. Do you know how loud the volume is that you and your children are using? Set safe volume limits and perform volume checks on a regular basis. It’s easy to turn the volume up during a quiet song or a noisy phone call and forget to turn it down. If you can’t seem to keep the volume within a safe range, shop for headphones that limit the decibel output to the recommended level for your age group. Keep in mind that over-the-ear, noise canceling headphones are typically safer than in-ear devices.

5.) Be a good role model.
Want your kids to listen at safe levels? Check the example you’re setting for them. Wear your ear protection around loud noise, check your volume levels, and have your hearing tested.

6.) Act Early.
If a child or a family member frequently doesn’t follow directions, asks you to repeat yourself, or seems to ignore you, that person might already have hearing loss. 
Adults can register online to take a ground-breaking National Hearing Test. The test is as simple as pressing the correct number on your phone’s keypad to indicate you correctly heard a number spoken against a barrage of background noise. You receive immediate results and recommendations for follow-up care if necessary.

The test costs only $5 for most users — and the AARP is offering the test free of charge for a limited time to its members.

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