We’ve all been cooped up during the COVID-19 quarantine and are looking to go back to the gym to exercise. As audiologists, we encourage people to exercise and keep fit because we know that regular exercise helps reduce your risk for other diseases shown to increase the risk of hearing loss: diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases related to blood vessels. Many people turn to the gym for cycling, kickboxing, step aerobics, dance, or working out with earbuds or headphones in the ears. These classes often crank up the music to levels that are harmful to the ears. This loud noise exposure can cause gradual hearing loss and ringing in the ears that goes unnoticed until damage is permanent.
To protect your hearing while getting back into exercising at the gym, here are some things you can do:
Ask the instructor or gym staff to turn down the music
Turning down the volume level will reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) for you, the instructor, and the other participants. You all will hear the instructor better once the music is lower too. If that gym refuses to turn down the volume, explore different gyms and fitness studios and their approach to noise management before choosing the facility for your needs.
If you need documentation to back up your request, you can easily measure the volume of the music using a free sound-level-meter app on your cell phone. Multiple free sound-level-meter phone apps are available for both iPhone and Android users in their app stores. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends wearing hearing protection (or reducing volume) whenever sound levels are 85 dBA or higher. If you do not have an app, a good rule of thumb is that noise is too loud if you need to shout to be heard by someone an arm’s length away.
We recommend that you keep a pair of earplugs in your gym bag or car so that you’ll have them on hand when needed. They also come in handy for loud music concerts. Our office sells small, comfortable earplugs that are effective enough to help soften the loudest sounds while still allowing you to hear the music without distortion or other people talking. We also make customized, filtered earplugs to help ensure a secure fit during high-intensity exercise, for music concerts, or even for people working in noise who still need to hear speech.
Keep your distance
Stay away from the speakers or sound source. The closer you are to the sound source, the louder the sound, so try to pick a spot as far away from the speakers as possible. That can be harder to do in small rooms or certain setups. If it’s not possible to distance yourself from loud speakers at a gym or class, it’s worth looking for another gym to protect your ears.
Frequent or prolonged noise exposure increases the chance of lifelong hearing damage. The damage from noise exposure to the ears is cumulative throughout one’s lifetime, often not becoming noticeable in the form of hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) until the body begins to age, typically between the ages of 50 and 60 years. This means that noise damages hearing without us knowing it or experiencing symptoms at the time the damage is occurring. Ironically, noise damage symptoms are often silent and unrecognized by the person experiencing it. Prolonged or extreme noise exposure may cause immediate ringing in the ears and a muffled hearing sensation, but more often the damage is not noticed for years to come.
If your ears ring after a session at the gym, that’s often a sure sign that the music was damaging to your ears. Wearing hearing protection and reducing noise exposure are small prices to pay to prevent future hearing loss and tinnitus. Lastly, if you have any noise exposure or hearing concerns, come in for a complete hearing evaluation, a baseline hearing test, and discussion of your hearing-protection needs.
The Audiologists at Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic are here to support you in your wellness goals. For small, comfortable earplugs, custom hearing protection, or more tips on keeping your hearing safe while working out, contact the audiologists at our Toledo or Perrysburg office. We look forward to hearing from you.
Selly Horvat, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).