Exercise responsibly: avoid sensorineural hearing loss

Whether you’re a dedicated fitness buff or someone who’s just beginning to get back into shape, congratulations. Research suggests regular exercise is good for our overall health – including our hearing health. However, exercising beyond your fitness level or in classes where the music is playing too loud can lead to sensorineural hearing loss, a permanent condition that is easily avoided by taking a few precautions.

The first thing you should do before beginning an exercise program is check with your doctor to determine whether you’re healthy enough to participate. Once you’ve received the go-ahead, take action to protect your hearing with the following tips:

1. Don’t exercise beyond your fitness level. Be sure to warm up properly, pace yourself and take breaks when necessary. Sudden hearing loss can occur when you exercise too hard. Symptoms include dizziness, a feeling of fullness in the ears and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Your hearing should return to normal after a few hours; however, if you notice this happens on an on-going basis, see your doctor. You may have an abnormality such as a perilymphatic fistula, a genetic defect of the inner ear such as Large Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome (LVAS) or another inner ear disorder such as Meniere’s disease.

2. If the music is too loud, ask the instructor to turn it down. If you have to shout to be heard at arm’s length, then the music in your fitness class is probably too loud. Researchers from George Mason University measured the sound levels in spinning classes through out the United States and found they measured between 100-110 decibels (dB), which is 30-40 dB above the maximum levels recommended by the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

If the instructor won’t turn down the volume, move away from the speakers, wear inexpensive foam ear plugs (available at your local drugstore) – or find another fitness class where the instructor is more concerned about your hearing health.

3. Ditto for the volume in your headphones, too. Listening to music at a high volume through headphones can also cause sensorineural hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to loud noise on the job or through leisure activities. For reference, prolonged exposure to noise above 85 decibels (dB) can damage your hearing permanently. It’s okay to use music to motivate you during your exercise routine, just make sure it’s not so loud it defeats the purpose of contributing to your overall good health.

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