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The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion people are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, brought about by exposure to excessive sound levels from personal mp3 devices and noisy environments such as nightclubs, 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 considered excessive? It turns out that any sound over 85 decibels is potentially damaging, and regretfully, many of our normal activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An portable music player at maximum volume, for instance, hits 105 decibels, and police sirens can hit 130.

So is hearing loss an unavoidable consequence of our over-amplified life? 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 entirely. Of course, for most people that would lead to walking away 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 recluse to spare your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud noise at work, or if you plan on attending a live show, instead of avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One option is to pick up a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, realizing that they will 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 contours of your ear for maximum comfort, and they incorporate sophisticated electronics that reduce sound volume uniformly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Talk 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, shows that as you double the distance from the source of sound the intensity level of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics may 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 versus a safe distance.

3. Take rest breaks for your ears

Hearing injury from exposure 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 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 concert or in a recording studio, for example, be sure you give your ears routine breaks and time to recover.

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

If you regularly listen to music from a portable 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 raise the risk of irreversible damage.

5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is very difficult, if not impossible to stick to 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 will filter out 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 book a hearing exam. In addition to being able to detect present hearing loss, a hearing test can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.

Considering 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 harm is done to schedule an appointment; prevention is the best medicine, and your local hearing specialist can furnish custom hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.

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