Listen Up! Leveraging Acoustics to Protect your Hearing

By Dustin Griesmann

How can leveraging acoustics proactively protect your hearing as you navigate through your daily life? Here are some helpful insights that can guide your daily hearing protection choices.

Most of us take our five senses for granted. But what happens when one of those senses is lost or compromised? The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated this painful reality when many of those who contracted the virus temporarily lost their sense of taste or smell. They are probably far less likely to take those senses for granted moving forward.

Most of us have regular eye exams. But what about protecting our hearing? Like our other senses, we often take our hearing for granted, assuming it will always be there. Truthfully, when was the last time you visited an audiologist to have your hearing checked? I imagine that there would be a significant percentage of us that have not seen an audiologist since we were kids.

Why is this the case?

  1. Most people do not experience any warning signs until their hearing has already been damaged. No pain = no problem, right?
  2. Most hearing loss occurs gradually, with no abrupt or noticeable moment of change. If I haven’t noticed any change, why would I have my hearing checked?

Take a Smart and Proactive Approach

Having worked in the acoustics field for over 20 years, I have learned that there are two effective ways to actively protect your hearing. First, be smart and learn about safe noise levels and when hearing protection is warranted. Second, be proactive and protect your hearing as part of your everyday routine by having effective hearing protection on hand and easily accessible.

Would you go to the beach without sunblock and invite a nasty sunburn? Would you go outside for a walk on a really sunny day without sunglasses and potentially damage your sight? We should really approach hearing protection in the same way.

All Frequencies are Not Created Equal

Why do people enjoy listening to loud music? The answer might surprise you. A healthy ear can perceive low frequency (bass) sounds down to approximately 20 hertz and high-frequency sounds (chimes or cymbals) up to approximately 20,000 hertz. However, just because we can hear sounds in this range does not mean that we hear all frequencies equally. At low volumes, our ears naturally roll off much of the low frequency and very high-frequency sounds. As the volume is increased, the frequency response of our ears begins to flatten out and those low and high-frequency sounds that we were not hearing as much before becomes more audible. This noticeable change is the reason most people prefer the fullness that loud music can provide. As a musician myself, I truly understand the dilemma. Listening to music at a quiet level just doesn’t sound as good.

Raise the Volume, Safely

How can we safely enjoy loud music? Here are two possible ideas. When listening to music on your cell phone or computer, use the built-in equalizer (or equalizer app) to adjust the frequency content of your music. By boosting the signals that our ears naturally cut, and cutting the signals that your ears naturally boost, you can manually flatten out your auditory response. This allows you to keep the volume lower and still enjoy a fuller, more pleasing musical experience. If this isn’t an option for you, or if you are going to listen to music at a concert where you do not have control over the level, I recommend “flat-response earplugs”. Conventional earplugs reduce certain frequencies of noise more than others, resulting in a muffled sound. Flat response earplugs are specifically designed to reduce sound levels evenly. This provides a more natural listening experience.

My position at Cotter allows me the opportunity to see the direct impact of noise in our environment and how it can impact our daily lives. So remember, be smart and proactive about noise levels and hearing protection. I promise that leveraging some basic acoustical adjustments in your environment will pay rich dividends in maintaining the quality of your hearing.