August 14, 2013 at 5:23 pm

How Old Are Your Ears? Find Out In Seconds, Then Do Something About It

This is a public service announcement: Please take care of your ears, because, like boiled lobsters, they cannot be returned to their previous state.

In about 90 seconds, you can find out how much damage you’ve already done to your ears, roughly speaking. Most of us never could hear frequencies higher than what the MP3 file can play (20 kHz), and as we hear loud noises, we lose hearing. Young people can hear higher frequencies, generally speaking, while older people can’t, outside of rare environments that lack the combustion engine, amplified sound, and other modern accouterments.

Are your ears older or younger than you? You can find out below.

Note: In order for this to work, you’ll need to increase the resolution in this YouTube video to 1080p and use headphones:

YouTube Preview Image

I posted some tips on how to protect your hearing without missing out on music a few years back:

Spend your ears wisely: Loud music can be great, as I know only too well. If you’re going to indulge, however, you better make sure it’s worth it. (Sort of like calorie counting, but with decibels.) “You should never waste your hearing on jackhammers and trucks,” said Les Blomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse. “You can survive certain loud sound exposures, and I’d much rather save that for things I would really enjoy.”

Get your hearing checked: Boring, I know, but this is the only way to gauge changes in your ears. Get them checked every once in a while, just like you would your eyes, so that changes in sensitivity can be measured objectively from visit to visit.

Use sound-isolating or noise-canceling headphones Many people turn their MP3 players up to unsafe volumes to compete with background noise, because in order to hear a song clearly and with a full dynamic range, you need a good amount of signal-to-noise ratio. Rather than turning up your volume, you can achieve the same effect by lowering the “noise” part of the equation. Use sound-isolating headphones (I recommend earbuds from Shure or Etymotic) or noise-canceling headphones (Blomberg recommends the Bose QuietComfort 2).

Take the “lawnmower test”: I’ve never had a lawn, but I know how loud a lawnmower is. According to Blomberg, if something sounds as loud as a lawnmower, you need hearing protection. For lawnmower-loud music, look for the more expensive earplugs that attenuate every frequency to more or less the same degree — you can even get them custom-fitted.

Pay attention to your genes: Until doctors (and lawmakers) figure out a way to let us see our own genetic predispositions, the best indicator of genetic hearing loss is your family. If grandpa can’t hear you, redouble your efforts to protect your ears.

Quit smoking: Yes, smokers have yet another thing to worry about health-wise. Evidently, smoking can damage your hearing – a lot. One study found that smokers have a 1.69 times greater chance than non-smokers of developing hearing loss. I chalk it up to smoke traveling to the ear through the Eustachian tubes [or maybe something to do with blood vessel constriction].

Remember to turn down, too: Often, when I’m walking around listening to music, I’ll keep ratcheting up the volume every time there’s a quiet song or loud background noise, until my overall volume is way too loud (sort of like boiling a lobster by gradually raising the temperature of the water). When you can, try turning it down a notch and seeing if your song still sounds as good.

(via io9; thanks, Lloyd)

  • Kate

    Should they all sound like whistling? I heard the first two as a clear tone but beyond that I heard what sounded like clicking maybe at slightly different tempos. Is that because of youtube or should I be concerned? I’m only in my 20s.

  • http://barryeuphorik.tumblr.com/ Barry Euphorik

    It was correct for me, couldn’t hear the under 30s, 20, etc. Still, need to protect my hearing.

  • http://barryeuphorik.tumblr.com/ Barry Euphorik

    I heard the first 3 and i’m 37. It worked for me. If you only heard the first 2 tones then you have the hearing of an under 50 yo.