Hearing loss can't always be prevented – sometimes it's just part of getting older. But hearing loss due to exposure to loud noises is completely avoidable.
There are some simple things you can do to help stop loud noises from permanently damaging your hearing, no matter how old you are.
1. Avoid loud noises
The best way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss is to keep away from loud noise as much as you can.
Generally, a noise is probably loud enough to damage your hearing if:
- you have to raise your voice to talk to other people
- you can't hear what people nearby are saying
- it hurts your ears
- you have ringing in your ears or muffled hearing afterwards
Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB): the higher the number, the louder the noise. Any sound over 85dB can be harmful, especially if you're exposed to it for a long time.
To get an idea of how loud this is:
- whispering – 30dB
- conversation – 60dB
- busy traffic – 70 to 85dB
- motorbike – 90dB
- listening to music on full volume through headphones – 100 to 110dB
- plane taking off – 120dB
You can get smartphone apps that measure noise levels, but make sure they're set up (calibrated) properly to get a more accurate reading.
2. Take care when listening to music
Listening to loud music through earphones and headphones is one of the biggest dangers to your hearing.
To help avoid damaging your hearing:
- use noise-cancelling earphones or headphones – don't just turn the volume up to cover up outside noise
- turn the volume up just enough so you can hear your music comfortably, but no higher
- don't listen to music at more than 60% of the maximum volume – some devices have settings you can use to limit the volume automatically
- don't use earphones or headphones for more than an hour at a time – take a break for at least 5 minutes every hour
Even just turning down the volume a little bit can make a big difference to your risk of hearing damage.
3. Protect your hearing during loud events and activities
To protect your hearing during loud activities and events (such as at nightclubs, gigs or sports events):
- move away from sources of loud noises (such as loudspeakers)
- try to take a break from the noise every 15 minutes
- give your hearing about 18 hours to recover after exposure to lots of loud noise
- consider wearing earplugs – you can buy re-usable musicians' earplugs that reduce the volume of music but don't muffle it
4. Take precautions at work
If you're exposed to loud noises through your work, speak to your human resources (HR) department or manager.
Your employer is obliged to make changes to reduce your exposure to loud noise – for example, by:
- switching to quieter equipment if possible
- making sure you're not exposed to loud noise for long periods
- providing hearing protection, such as ear muffs or earplugs
Make sure you wear any hearing protection you're given.
5. Get your hearing tested
Get a hearing test as soon as possible if you're worried you might be losing your hearing. The earlier hearing loss is picked up, the earlier something can be done about it.
You might also want to consider having regular hearing checks (once a year, say) if you're at a higher risk of noise-induced hearing loss – for example, if you're a musician or work in noisy environments.
Find out more about protecting your hearing on the Action on Hearing Loss website.