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How To Improve Your "Auditory Diet" For The Sake Of Your Ear Health

Emma Loewe
Author:
December 04, 2023
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Woman Working Out and Listening to Music
Image by Jacob Lund / iStock
December 04, 2023
We carefully vet all products and services featured on mindbodygreen using our commerce guidelines. Our selections are never influenced by the commissions earned from our links.

We pay a lot of attention to the food and drink we put into our bodies, yet we often ignore the sounds that we consume daily.

While some sound exposure is out of our hands (i.e., construction noise and traffic), a lot of it is very much within our control (the 1,320 minutes I've spent listening to Taylor Swift this year? Definitely a choice).

And just like our food choices impact our overall health, our sound choices can impact our hearing and ear health in the long run.

As rates of noise-induced hearing loss continue to climb (particularly among young people), here are a few small ways to clean up your "auditory diet" and protect your ears from unnecessary damage each day:

1.

Monitor your exposure

Hamid R. Djalilian, M.D., an otolaryngologist specializing in hearing disorders, explains that 85 decibels (dB) is an important threshold to know for auditory health. You can safely be in 85 dB of noise for about eight hours. However, any noise louder than that can damage the inner ear, and over time, this damage can accumulate and cause hearing loss.

For context, a quiet room sounds in at around 40 decibels, and freeway traffic is 70 dB, while a rock concert can be as loud as 100-120 dB and jackhammers around 130 dB.

Since humans don't come with a built-in noise meter, Djalilian recommends using your phone or watch to alert you when you're exposed to a sound that's higher than 85 decibels. Apple users can do this using the Noise app. Or you can download the free NIOSH Sound Level Meter App1.

2.

Keep earplugs in your bag

Keeping a pair of earplugs in your bag will ensure you're always protected from unexpected loud noises. These are especially important to pack if you know you're going to end up at a concert or show. "I was at a concert recently, and I don't think anybody was wearing earplugs aside from me and my family. That's something that needs to change," says Djalilian. These days, you can also find earplugs designed to reduce concert noise without messing with sound quality, like these ones from Loop.

3.

Plug your ears when unexpected noise pops up

If a loud noise catches you off guard and you don't have your earbuds, Djalilian recommends simply plugging your ears with your fingers. It may look silly, but doing it the next time a garbage truck comes whooshing by or an aggressive driver lays down on the horn can save you a lot of damage. "This is the easiest way to protect yourself from daily noise exposures. It helps ensure you don't get exposed to any extra noise that you don't need to be listening to," he says.

4.

Get regular checkups

"Hearing loss is part of overall health. Just like you check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose numbers, you should also be paying attention to your hearing health," notes Barbara Kelley, the executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). The HLAA recommends that all adults over 50 schedule annual checkups with an audiologist—whether or not they're experiencing any hearing loss.

Heather Malyuk, AuD, an audiologist and expert in the field of hearing wellness, explains that since each ear is different, seeing an audiologist can help you determine how to best protect your unique pair. She adds that your ears also provide a window into overall health, so if your practitioner finds something is wrong with them, it could help tip you off to a larger issue like a virus or tumor.

5.

Be mindful of headphone use

Headphones themselves are not necessarily bad for your ears (and they can actually serve as hearing aids in some cases); it's all about how you use them. Malyuk recommends following the 80-90 rule: If you're listening to headphones for more than 90 minutes a day, keep the volume at 80% or less.

Djalilian notes that podcasts or audiobooks tend to be the safest things to listen to in headphones from an ear health perspective since they tend to have built-in breaks. But if you're listening to music for long periods of time, he actually recommends turning the volume down to 50% or less.

6.

Seek out the sounds of nature

Tuning in to nature sounds can be a wonderful way to take your hearing health—and mindfulness routine—to a new level.

Research shows that listening to the sounds of the outdoors can reduce stress and improve mood. The next time you hear the morning chorus of the birds or the whirring of the wind at night, take a moment to close your eyes and give the restorative sound your full attention.

"The beautiful part about experiencing a soundscape is that you're connecting to your local ecosystem in another way," adds William Cowie, a musician who recently hiked a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail as part of adidas TERREX's United By Summits Campaign, paying special attention to its symphony of sounds.

If you live in a city or place with lots of manufactured noise, Cowie recommends practicing separating the biophonies (nature sounds) from the androphonies (human sounds) to flex your listening skills and deepen your sense of place.

7.

Take listening breaks

It's important to avoid constantly flooding your system with noise and stimulation—both for the sake of your ears and your mental health. Djalilian recommends carving out a few minutes of silence every hour to allow your system to relax.

And he notes that parents should talk to their kids about doing the same. "Teaching young people about this is critical because it develops this culture of being protective of your hearing," he says. After all, hearing loss isn't just something that we have to worry about when we're older. It can occur anytime, and protecting your ears when you're young can go a long way in preventing it.

The takeaway

Investing in a pair of earplugs, monitoring your headphone use, taking listening breaks, and getting regular checkups with an audiologist are just a few ways to protect your ears on the daily. Here are some more audiologist-approved tips for tending to this often-neglected aspect of health.

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