The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion people are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, caused by exposure to intense sound levels from personal mp3 devices and noisy settings such as clubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An projected 26 million Americans already suffer from the condition.

If noise-induced hearing loss results from direct exposure to extreme sound levels, then what is deemed as excessive? It turns out that any sound higher than 85 decibels is potentially dangerous, and unfortunately, many of our routine activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An MP3 player at maximum volume, for example, reaches 105 decibels, and police sirens can hit 130.

So is hearing loss an unavoidable outcome of our over-amplified life? Not if you make the right choices, 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 best way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would entail leaving their jobs and ditching their plans to see their favorite band 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 live concert, rather than avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One approach is to pick up a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will 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 formed to the contours of your ear for maximum comfort, and they feature advanced electronics that decrease sound volume uniformly across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Contact your local hearing specialist for more information.

2. Keep a safe distance from the sound source

The inverse square law, as applied to sound, says that as you double the distance from the source of sound the strength of the sound drops by 75%. This law of physics could save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing front row next to the speaker, increase your distance as much as possible, managing the benefits of a good view against a safe distance.

3. Take rest breaks for your ears

Hearing impairment 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 length 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 control your cumulative length of exposure by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a live concert or in a recording studio, for example, be sure to give your ears occasional breaks and time to recuperate.

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

If you frequently listen to music from a portable mp3 music 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. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is very difficult, if not impossible to adhere to 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 ambient noise.

The remedy? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter background sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaching the 60/60 rule.

6. Arrange for regular hearing exams

It’s never too early or too late to book a hearing test. In addition to the ability to determine present hearing loss, a hearing exam can also establish a baseline for future comparison.

Considering hearing loss develops slowly, it is difficult to notice. 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 supply personalized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.

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