The ironic part of hearing loss is that we don’t seem to start appreciating our favorite sounds until after we’ve lost the ability to clearly hear them. We don’t pause to give thought to, for instance, how much we appreciate a good conversation with a close friend until we have to persistently ask them to repeat themselves.

Whether it’s your favorite Mozart record or the songs of a Bluejay first thing in the morning, your total well being is directly connected to your ability to hear—whether you realize it or not. And if you wait until after you’ve lost your hearing to come to this realization, you’re going to spend a good deal of time and effort trying to get it back.

So how can you protect 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 slowly and gradually develops as we grow old. Along with presbycusis, there is also some evidence suggesting that genetics plays a role, and that some of us are more vulnerable to hearing loss than others.

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

2. Traveling

Regular direct exposure to sound volumes above 85 decibels can result in permanent hearing loss, which is not-so-good news if you happen to own a convertible. New research reveals that driving a convertible with the top down at excessive speeds yields an average sound volume level of 90 decibels. Motorcyclists face even louder sounds and those who take the subway are at risk as well.

So does everybody either have to forego travel or live with permanent earplugs? Not exactly, but you should certainly look for ways to limit your collective noise exposure during travel. If you drive a convertible, roll up your windows and drive a little slower; if you own a motorcycle, put on a helmet and think about earplugs; and if you ride the subway, give some thought to buying noise-canceling headsets.

3. Going to work

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

The last thing you want is to spend your entire working life amassing hearing loss that will prevent you from taking pleasure in your retirement. Check with your supervisor about its hearing protection plan, and if they do not have one, talk to your local hearing specialist for personalized solutions.

4. Taking drugs and smoking

Smoking interferes with blood flow, among other things, which could enhance your risk of developing hearing loss—if you really required another reason to stop smoking. Antibiotics, potent pain medications, and a large number of other drugs are “ototoxic,” or toxic to the cells of hearing. In fact, there are more than 200 known ototoxic medications.

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

5. Listening to music

85 is turning out to be quite an inconvenient number. Many of our favorite activities produce decibel levels just above this limit, and any sound over 85 decibels can result in hearing loss. If the limit were just slightly 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 reach more than 100 decibels while rock shows reach more than 110. The solution is simple: turn down your iPod, wear earplugs at concerts, and reduce your time of exposure to the music.

6. Getting sick or injured

Specific disorders, such as diabetes, together with any traumatic head injuries, places you at greater risk of developing hearing loss. If you have diabetes, frequent exercise, a balanced diet, and consistent tracking of glucose levels is critical. And if you ride a motorcycle, using a helmet will help prevent traumatic head injuries.

Talk to Your Hearing Specialist

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

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