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

If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from direct exposure to excessive sound levels, then what is regarded as excessive? It turns out that any sound higher than 85 decibels is potentially hazardous, and regrettably, many of our routine activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An mp3 music player at maximum volume, for instance, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can reach 130.

So is hearing loss an unavoidable outcome of our over-amplified life? Not if you make the right decisions, 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 best way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would lead to leaving their jobs and ditching their plans to watch their favorite music group perform live in concert.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to live like a hermit to salvage your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on going to a live show, instead of avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One solution is to buy a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will most likely 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 contours of your ear for maximum comfort, and they feature sophisticated electronics that lower sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Talk to your local hearing professional for more information.

2. Keep a safe distance from the sound source

The inverse square law, as applied to sound, states that as you double the distance from the source of sound the strength of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics could save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing front row next to the speaker system, 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 impairment 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 length of time you’re exposed to the sound

You can reduce the intensity level of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also control your collective length of exposure by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a live concert or in a recording studio, for instance, make sure to give your ears occasional breaks and time to recuperate.

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

If you often listen to music from a portable MP3 player, make sure you keep the volume no higher that 60% of the maximum volume for no longer than 60 minutes each day. Higher volume and longer listening times multiply the risk of long-term damage.

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is very hard, if not impossible to stick to in certain listening situations. In the presence of disruptive 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 ambient 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 assessment. Along with the ability to detect present hearing loss, a hearing examination can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.

Ever since hearing loss develops slowly, it is difficult to notice. For the majority of people, the only way to know if hearing loss is present is to have a professional hearing test. 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 furnish customized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.

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