Ear Protection: Docs Offer Advice That’s Easy to Hear

Eric Tegethoff | Public News Service
Noise-canceling headphones can keep people from turning up the volume to drown out the noise around them. Photo Credit: serhio777 / Adobe Stock

Hearing loss is on the rise and – as people return to the loud places like the gym after pandemic-induced hiatuses – medical professionals are advising them to protect their hearing.

Alyce Schott, an audiologist with Oregon Health and Science University, said people have a tendency to turn up their headphones to drown out a noisy place like the gym. She said there are headphone options that can help people navigate this predicament.

“You can just get good, totally covering the ear – we call them circumaural – headphones with noise canceling features,” said Schott. “So that allows you to reduce your background noise and then to keep what you’re listening to in your ears instead of leaking back out.”

Schott said anything above 85 decibels is considered the top end of the listening levels. Many headphones on the market can reach well above that, but there are phone apps that can help people monitor the levels on their headphones.

Schott said hearing loss is on the rise among young people, and it’s connected to the devices used to listen to music.

Claire Johnson, an audiologist and manager of clinical services with UnitedHealthcare, said people should follow the 60/60 rule. That means limiting music for 60 minutes at a time at 60 percent of the music player’s volume.

She also said that folks’ diets can help their hearing, such as post-workout snacks high in potassium, zinc and magnesium.

“Foods like bananas, spinach and yogurt can provide nutrients that are going to help maintain your hearing health,” said Johnson. “It’s something we don’t often think about but our inner ear is actually a really delicate organ that needs nourishing fuel as well.”

Schott said people of every age, from infancy to old age, should have their hearing protected in some way.

“Hearing protection is always an option,” said Schott. “They have great over-the-counter options and then if that doesn’t fit you well, there’s always custom. So there’s an option out there. You just have to kind of explore what they are.”