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The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion individuals are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, caused by exposure to extreme sound levels from personal audio devices and very loud environments 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 extreme sound levels, then what is deemed as excessive? It turns out that any noise higher than 85 decibels is potentially dangerous, and regretfully, many of our everyday activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An music player at maximum volume, for instance, hits 105 decibels, and police sirens can hit 130.

So is hearing loss an inescapable 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 avoid loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would entail quitting 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 save your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on attending a live show, instead of avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One method is to buy a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, understanding that they will almost certainly 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 curves of your ear for maximum comfort, and they contain advanced electronics that decrease sound volume evenly across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Speak to your local hearing specialist for additional 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 may save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than standing front row adjacent to the speaker, increase your distance as much as possible, balancing the benefits of a good view against a safe distance.

3. Take rest breaks for your ears

Hearing injury 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 exposed to the sound

You can lessen the intensity level of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also control your cumulative exposure time by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a live concert or in a recording studio, for example, you’ll want to give your ears periodic 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 raise the risk of irreversible damage.

5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is very difficult, 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 ambient noise.

The answer? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones can 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 soon or too late to arrange a hearing examination. In addition to being able to detect present hearing loss, a hearing exam can also establish a baseline for future comparison.

Given that hearing loss develops gradually, it is difficult to perceive. 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 harm is done to schedule an appointment; prevention is the best medicine, and your local hearing specialist can offer customized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.