It’s become a natural reflex to put on a pair of earphones or earbuds every day. Whether you’re tuning into a Bluetooth television, listening to a podcast, playing your favorite song, or participating in a virtual meeting, these personal audio devices are turning into bodily extensions.
After all, they are extremely convenient. They let you be hands-free so you can multitask, often offer clearer sound, and can allow you to enjoy what you want without disturbing anybody.
But they may also be increasing your chances of hearing loss.
New analysis from the Acoustical Society of America reports that high levels of loud noise (70 decibels or more – about the same as a vacuum cleaner, music or television playing in the living room, or a passing car going 65 mph) can boost the risk for hearing loss.
It also found that people who use headphones and earbuds have the most potential for losing hearing later in life.
Some hearing loss with age is normal, but significant or severe hearing loss is not a part of normal healthy aging. When it is severe, experts suggest it is largely noise-induced.
Noise exposure doesn’t necessarily stop at hearing loss, either. There is research to suggest hearing loss is linked to cognitive decline and dementia risk.
A 2011 study in JAMA Neurology found that even those with mildly impacted hearing were twice as likely to develop dementia as those without hearing loss. Moderate hearing loss could boost the risk for dementia by three times, while people with severe hearing loss were five times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
When it comes to hearing loss, prevention is the best approach. Here are some ways to protect your hearing and your mental health,
Keep the volume at a reasonable level: Try to keep volumes below 70 dB when listening to anything. Most modern smartphones will track earbud and headphone volume, generally in “health” apps. Take a look and see your listening volume.
Another way to tell if the volume is reasonable is to take your headphones off, or buds out, while listening and hold them in front of you. If you can hear it, it’s too loud.
Try a sound meter: It might be more difficult to determine the volume of your radio or TV. Downloading a free sound meter smartphone app can help. Simply download an app and turn it on to learn the volume.
Keep windows closed: If you live on a busy street try keeping your windows closed or installing double-paneled windows to block out sounds from traffic, construction, and other ambient noise that could be damaging.
Pay attention to any hearing loss and act as quickly as possible. The sooner it is acknowledged and treated, the risk for cognitive decline goes down.