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

If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from direct exposure to intense sound levels, then what is considered to be excessive? It turns out that any noise more than 85 decibels is potentially damaging, and unfortunately, many of our daily activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An portable music player at maximum volume, for example, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can reach 130.

So is hearing loss an unavoidable consequence of our over-amplified world? Not if you make the right choices, 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 mean abandoning their jobs and dropping their plans to see 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 exposed to loud noise at work, or if you plan on going to a live show, rather than avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One possibility is to buy a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, understanding that they will most likely create muffled sound. There is a better option.

Today, a number of custom earplugs are obtainable that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are shaped to the curves of your ear for optimum comfort, and they feature advanced electronics that reduce sound volume uniformly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Speak to your local hearing professional 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 drops by 75%. This law of physics might possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than 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 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 amount of time you’re subjected to the sound

You can decrease the intensity level of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also minimize 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, remember to give your ears regular breaks and time to recover.

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

If you regularly listen to music from a portable mp3 music player, ensure that 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 challenging, if not impossible to comply with in certain listening situations. In the presence of very loud 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 can filter out 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 book a hearing examination. Along with the ability to detect existing hearing loss, a hearing examination can also establish a baseline for future comparison.

Given that hearing loss develops gradually, it is difficult to notice. For most 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 instrument specialist can furnish customized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.

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