The festive season is here. Masses will be outdoors with family, friends and loved ones celebrating this merry season. Music, concerts, parades, fireworks are the highlight of the festive fun, and don’t forget holiday shopping! There is no reason to not join in the fun, to listen to some Frank Ocean or Queen or to do some holiday toy shopping for the children. However, it is important to be mindful on how to protect your ears during this festive season.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 1 billion individuals are at risk of hearing loss due to recreational exposure to loud noise, such as listening to loud music with earphones, attending loud concerts and children playing with toys (yes, children playing with toys!). Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can affect many aspects of people’s lives. In young children, it impairs speech-language acquisition, communication and social interactivity. Learning disabilities leading to decreased academic performance and attention-seeking behaviour is also common in children exposed to loud noise. In adults, noise-induced hearing loss may impair their ability to perform to a satisfactory level at their workplace, their ability to integrate back into society and may endanger their personal safety.
What exactly is safe listening?
The human ear is able to detect a wide range of sounds, from very soft to extremely loud. The intensity of sound is measured in decibel (dB), this generally ranges from -20 dB (extremely soft) to 150 dB (extremely loud) for sounds one might typically be exposed to in their life. To paint the picture clearly, a whisper is around 30 dB, a normal conversation is around 60 dB, a hair drier or a car horn 5 meters away around 100 dB and a firecracker or firearm approximately 150 dB.
Safe listening levels depend on the loudness of the of the sound and the duration in which an individual is exposed to the loud sound for. Loudness level and duration of exposure are interrelated. Permissible levels of daily exposure to noise have been defined - specifically for occupational settings, however, these have been extrapolated for the application of recreational settings.
The highest safe noise exposure level is considered to be 85 dB for a maximum of 8 hours. Therefore, listening to music with an intensity of 100 dB for 15 minutes may represent the same noise levels experienced by an industrial worker at 85 dB for 8 hours a day. The table below depicts the daily permissible noise level exposure.
Do note that the louder the noise, the less time it takes to damage one's hearing as shown in the table above. So be mindful of the time you spend in very loud environments.
Sources of noise to look out for.
It is important to note that adolescents and adults are not the only individuals that are exposed to louder sounds. The danger of children being exposed to noise is probably underestimated. Common children toys such as toy phones, guns and rattles are capable of generating unsafe noise levels ranging from 80 dB to 140 dB. What further aggravates the problem is that children have a tendency of placing these loud toys closer to their ears - which increases the intensity as well as the likelihood of damage to the ear. So, when you do some holiday shopping for your children, be on the lookout for toys that may generate unsafe noise levels.
Below we have listed some examples of recreational activities and the intensity of sound they may expose you and your loved ones to.
5 ways to prevent noise-induced hearing loss during this festive season
Hearing loss as a result of exposure to noise is irreversible, and effective treatment (i.e. hearing aids) is limited and costly. Prevention of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is paramount as this type of loss is completely avoidable. Prevention strategies can be employed to ensure that you protect your hearing and the hearing of those you love.
Yes, at times, noise may be perceived as enjoyable, for example, the noise of a concert show. Although, a concert can be equally enjoyable with safe listening noise/levels.
Knowing which loud sound you are exposed to and which one may potentially cause harm to your hearing is the first step in taking action.
Basic practical strategies below to save your hearing.
1. Staying away from noise. We all find ourselves in noisy environments at time. During this time of the year, there may be a lot of noisy areas and it is better to stay as far away as possible from the speaker/source emitting the noise. Rule of thumb: If you have to raise your voice in order for the next person to hear you - the noise in your environment is too loud. Children do not always know when to move away from noise sources. Noise can be generated by the toys that they have, which may damage their hearing. Take caution when purchasing toys for your children this holidays, ensure that the toys do not produce loud sounds. There are always toys that have a softer sound than some. Avoid buying noisy toys.
2. Keeping the volume down. The recommended safe volume level is less than 85 dB. If you struggle to hear and understand someone at arm’s length - then the sound in your environment may be too loud. A small reduction in the volume of the source may allow you to communicate effectively with another individual and will offer significant protection for your ears.
3. Using noise protection devices/earplugs. When attending concerts, clubs and visit noisy environments, use noise protection devices such as earplugs. The use of hearing protection devices helps to greatly avoid damage to hearing. One can use earplugs, which are small spongy devices inserted into the ear canal or earmuffs which are placed around the ears. Both these protection devices can easily be bought at a pharmacy - without a prescription. Such devices range from ones that block out about 5 dB to those that block out 45 dB.
4. Limiting time spent engaging with loud sound activities. Basically, the time spent in a noisy environment should be limited. If you are attending a party over this festive season, and can’t reduce the volume of the noise, small listening breaks can help reduce exposure. Move away from the noise from time to time - to have chats with other people.
If your christmas present are new headsets/earphones or an MP3 player and can’t get over listening to the music, you can do so safely. Limiting earphones/headphones use to less than an hour a day could help greatly.
5. Regular hearing check-ups. Have a hearing check-up before and after the festive season. Having a hearing assessment can help identify early onset of loss before it becomes noticeable thus affecting one’s quality of life. Knowing your hearing status will motivate you to ensure that the hearing level stays that way. Furthermore, research has found that individuals who have an existing hearing loss are more susceptible to NIHL than others. So, know your hearing status.
You can enjoy your festive season without causing damage to your hearing. Take action!