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

If noise-induced hearing loss results from being exposed to excess sound levels, then what is considered to be excessive? It turns out that any noise above 85 decibels is potentially damaging, and regretfully, many of our routine activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An portable music player at maximum volume, for instance, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can hit 130.

So is hearing loss an inevitable consequence of our over-amplified world? 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 optimum way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would entail quitting 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 recluse to spare your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on going to a concert, rather than avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One solution is to pick up a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will probably create muffled sound. There is a better option.

Today, a number of custom earplugs are available that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are formed to the curves of your ear for optimum comfort, and they contain sophisticated electronics that decrease sound volume evenly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Talk to 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 level of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics may save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing front row next to the speaker, increase your distance as much as possible, weighing the benefits of a good view versus a safe distance.

3. Take rest breaks for your ears

Hearing injury from subjection 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 subjected to the sound

You can lower the intensity of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also minimize your collective length of exposure by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a concert or in a recording studio, for instance, make sure to 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 per day. Higher volume and longer listening times enhance the risk of permanent damage.

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is challenging, if not impossible to abide by in certain listening environments. 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 breaking 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 diagnose present hearing loss, a hearing examination can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.

Because hearing loss develops gradually, it is difficult to perceive. For most 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 offer personalized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.

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