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

If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from exposure to elevated sound levels, then what is regarded as excessive? It turns out that any sound above 85 decibels is potentially dangerous, and regretfully, many of our regular activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An portable music player at maximum volume, for instance, reaches 105 decibels, and police sirens can hit 130.

So is hearing loss an inevitable outcome of our over-amplified world? 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 optimum way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would mean resigning from 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 subjected to loud noise at work, or if you plan on going to a live performance, rather than avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One alternative is to buy a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, understanding that they will in all likelihood create muffled sound. There is a better option.

Today, several custom earplugs are obtainable that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are formed to the curves of your ear for maximum comfort, and they include sophisticated 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. 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 strength of the sound falls 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, balancing the benefits of a good view versus a safe distance.

3. Take rest breaks for your ears

Hearing damage 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 decrease the intensity level of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also control your collective length of exposure by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a live concert or in a recording studio, for instance, be sure you give your ears recurrent 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 player, make sure you maintain the volume no higher that 60% of the maximum volume for no longer than 60 minutes each day. Higher volume and longer listening times increase the risk of long-term damage.

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is very hard, if not impossible to abide by in certain listening circumstances. 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 ambient noise.

The remedy? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones can filter out background 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 set up a hearing test. Along with the ability to identify existing hearing loss, a hearing examination can also establish a baseline for future comparison.

Ever since hearing loss develops slowly, it is difficult to notice. 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 furnish individualized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.