The strange part of hearing loss is that we don’t seem to start appreciating our favorite sounds until after we’ve lost the capacity to clearly hear them. We don’t pause to think about, for example, how much we appreciate a good conversation with a close friend until we have to routinely ask them to repeat themselves.

Whether it’s your favorite Mozart album or the songs of a Bluejay first thing in the morning, your quality of life is closely connected to your ability to hear—regardless of whether you realize it or not. And if you wait until after you’ve lost your hearing to come to this recognition, you’re going to spend a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to get it back.

So how can you preserve your ability to hear?

Here are 6 ways you could lose your hearing and what you can do about it.

1. Genetics and aging

Age-related hearing loss, also called presbycusis, is the loss of hearing that steadily develops as we grow old. Together with presbycusis, there is also some evidence suggesting that genetics plays a role, and that some of us are more prone to hearing loss than others.

While there’s not much you can do to stop the aging process or alter your genes, you can protect against noise-induced hearing loss from the other sources discussed below. And keep in mind that age-related hearing loss is significantly more complicated to treat if aggravated by preventable damage.

2. Traveling

Continuous direct exposure to sound volumes above 85 decibels can lead to permanent hearing loss, which is not-so-good news if you happen to drive a convertible. New research shows that driving a convertible with the top down at high speeds yields an average sound volume of 90 decibels. Motorcyclists encounter even louder sounds and those who use the subway are at risk as well.

So does everybody either have to abandon travel or live with permanent earplugs? Not quite, but you should find ways to reduce your cumulative noise exposure during travel. If you own a convertible, roll up your car windows and drive a little slower; if you own a motorcycle, put on a helmet and consider earplugs; and if you take the subway, think about purchasing noise-canceling headsets.

3. Going to work

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 22 million people in the US are exposed to potentially hazardous noise volumes at work. The highest risk professions are in manufacturing, farming, construction, the military, and the music industry.

The last thing you need is to spend your total working life accumulating hearing loss that will keep you from making the most of your retirement. Discuss with your supervisor about its hearing protection plan, and if they do not have one, consult with your local hearing specialist for customized solutions.

4. Taking drugs and smoking

Smoking impedes blood flow, on top of other things, which may increase your risk of developing hearing loss—if you really needed another reason to quit. Antibiotics, strong pain medications, and a large number of other drugs are “ototoxic,” or damaging to the cells of hearing. In fact, there are more than 200 known ototoxic medications.

The bottom line: avoid using ototoxic drugs or medications unless completely necessary. Consult with your doctor if you have any questions.

5. Listening to music

85 is turning out to be quite an inconvenient number. A large number of our favorite activities produce decibel levels just over this threshold, and any sound over 85 decibels can result in hearing loss. If the threshold were just a little higher, say 100 decibels, we wouldn’t have to worry about it so much.

But 85 it is. And portable music players at maximum volume get to more than 100 decibels while rock concerts reach more than 110. The solution is straight forward: turn down your iPod, wear earplugs at live shows, and minimize your time of exposure to the music.

6. Getting sick or injured

Selected disorders, such as diabetes, together with any traumatic head injuries, places you at a higher risk of developing hearing loss. If you have diabetes, regular exercise, a balanced diet, and continual tracking of blood sugar levels is vital. And if you ride a motorcycle, wearing a helmet will help prevent traumatic head injuries.

Talk to Your Hearing Specialist

Although there are several ways to lose your hearing, a few basic lifestyle alterations can help you preserve your hearing for life. Remember: the minimal inconvenience of wearing custom earplugs, driving with the windows up, or turning down your iPod are insignificant in comparison to the substantial inconvenience of hearing loss later in life.

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