The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion individuals are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, induced by exposure to excessive sound levels from personal audio devices and noisy settings such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An estimated 26 million Americans already suffer from the condition.

If noise-induced hearing loss results from exposure to extreme sound levels, then what is deemed as excessive? It turns out that any sound above 85 decibels is potentially hazardous, and unfortunately, many of our routine activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An MP3 player at maximum volume, for instance, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can reach 130.

So is hearing loss an inescapable outcome of our over-amplified world? Not if you make the right choices, because it also turns out that noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Here are six ways you can save your hearing:

1. Use custom earplugs

The ideal way to prevent hearing loss is to avoid loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would mean quitting their jobs and dropping their plans to see their favorite band perform live in concert.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to live like a recluse to spare your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud noise at work, or if you plan on attending a live show, rather than avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One option is to pick up a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, realizing that they will in all likelihood create muffled sound. There is a better option.

Today, a variety of custom earplugs are obtainable that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are shaped to the curves of your ear for optimum comfort, and they incorporate sophisticated electronics that decrease sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Contact your local hearing professional for additional information.

2. Keep a safe distance from the sound source

The inverse square law, as applied to sound, shows that as you double the distance from the source of sound the intensity of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics might possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than standing in the front row next to the speaker, increase your distance as much as possible, weighing the benefits of a good view against a safe distance.

3. Take rest breaks for your ears

Hearing damage from exposure to loud sound is influenced by on three factors:

  1. the sound level or intensity
  2. your distance from the sound source
  3. the amount of time you’re exposed to the sound

You can decrease the intensity level of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also limit your cumulative length of exposure by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a concert or in a recording studio, for instance, ensure that you give your ears regular breaks and time to recover.

4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule

If you often listen to music from a portable mp3 music player, make sure you maintain the volume no higher that 60% of the maximum volume for no longer than 60 minutes each day. Higher volume and longer listening times increase the risk of irreversible damage.

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is very difficult, if not impossible to comply with in certain listening conditions. In the presence of very loud background noise, like in a busy city, you have to turn up the volume on your MP3 player to hear the music over the surrounding noise.

The solution? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter background sounds so that you can enjoy your music without violating the 60/60 rule.

6. Schedule regular hearing exams

It’s never too early or too late to schedule a hearing examination. Along with being able to detect present hearing loss, a hearing assessment can also establish a baseline for future comparison.

Given that hearing loss develops slowly, it is difficult to detect. For most people, the only way to know if hearing loss is present is to have a professional hearing examination. But you shouldn’t wait until after the damage is done to schedule an appointment; prevention is the best medicine, and your local hearing specialist can offer personal hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.

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