7 Ways You're Ruining Your Hearing

Your hearing is precious. Be careful.Your hearing is precious. Be careful.

Scientists say hearing loss can cause social isolation and depression. Luckily, there are simple things you can do every day to prevent long-term ear damage. First off, pay attention to this guideline from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Don't expose yourself to noises that are 100 decibels or higher for more than 15 minutes a day. To get an idea of what 100 decibels means in the real world, here are some noisy activities you should limit.

1. Listening to loud music
This one's obvious but worth a reminder. You can only listen to your iPod at its max of 100 to 115 decibels for about eight minutes before causing harm, warns Sharon Sandridge, PhD, director of clinical services in audiology at the Cleveland Clinic. "There's nothing wrong with listening to music, all day every day -- as long as it's below about 85 decibels," says Robert K. Jackler, M.D., chairman of the department of otolaryngology at Stanford University. That's especially true when you're using ear buds for extended periods of time, like during long runs. So, please, turn it down a little.

2. Exercising in a noisy gym
A health club can bombard your ears with over-100-decibel noise from the combination of machines, amplified voices, and music. Try Mack's Earplugs, which let the good tunes in but keep the overall volume low (and have the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval). If you're at a health club that's blaring the hits to a damaging degree, it's okay to ask the manager to turn it down. "Most gyms don't have a noise company coming in and measuring the intensity of sound," says Michael Ruckenstein, M.D., an otolaryngologist at the University of Pennsylvania. "They're not required to by law."

Related: 10 Ways You're Ruining Your Eyes

3. Going to loud concerts, bars, and even church services
Church music may seem innocuous, but be wary, says Sandridge, who wears ear plugs to her Sunday service. She notes that worship leaders often like a too-loud 90 decibels because it lets people sing without hearing their neighbors. And modern churches often use rock instead of organ music to appeal to a younger crowd. If you feel pain or experience ringing in your ears (tinnitus), you are definitely overdoing it. To be safe, invest in those ear plugs.

4. Home improvement
Hand drills hit 100 decibels, while chainsaws can go up to 120. And hammering nails can be noisy, too, says Jackler. "If it's loud enough to make your ears ring, it's loud enough to give you hearing loss."

5. Using a snow blower or lawn mower
Mowing the lawn? Yep, another culprit. A gas lawn mower creates a whopping 106 decibels of noise. So cut your grass quickly, and, again, wear earplugs. A snow blower also hits 106 decibels. Grab the earplugs or try switching to an old-fashioned shovel (you can burn almost 400 calories an hour). And forget using cotton balls to cancel out noise. "They don't do anything," says Jackler.

Related: Your Headphones Are Hazardous

6. Watching homemade fireworks shows
The average decibel level for fireworks, when you're three feet away from them, is a painful 150 decibels. Dale Amanda Tylor, M.D., an otolaryngologist in the Bay Area, just saw a patient who experienced hearing loss after a Chinese New Year firecracker went off a few feet from her.

7. Hunting
If you love hunting, use those special shooting ear muffs: Firearms go up to 140 decibels. Tylor says one patient now lives with ringing in the ear because of not covering his ears fast enough before a friend started shooting.

Tip: Download a free app on your phone to measure the decibel levels of your surroundings, like Decibel 10th, which registers an "average quiet street" or "average quiet home" at around 55 decibels.

- By Karen Springen

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