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

If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from direct exposure to excess sound levels, then what is considered excessive? It turns out that any noise over 85 decibels is potentially harmful, and unfortunately, many of our normal activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An music player at maximum volume, for example, reaches 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 happens 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 lead to walking away from their jobs and dropping 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 save your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on going to a live concert, instead of avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One solution is to buy a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, realizing 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 shaped to the contours of your ear for optimum comfort, and they incorporate sophisticated electronics that lower sound volume evenly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Speak to your local hearing professional for more information.

2. Maintain 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 intensity of the sound declines by 75%. This law of physics might possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than 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 damage from subjection to loud sound is dependent on three factors:

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

You can decrease the intensity of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also lessen your collective exposure time 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 periodic breaks and time to recover.

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

If you frequently 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 enlarge the risk of irreversible damage.

5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is hard, if not impossible to comply with 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 background sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaching the 60/60 rule.

6. Schedule regular hearing exams

It’s never too soon or too late to schedule a hearing test. Along with the ability to detect present hearing loss, a hearing assessment can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.

Given that hearing loss develops slowly, it is difficult to detect. For the majority of 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 provide tailored hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.