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

If noise-induced hearing loss results from direct exposure to excessive sound levels, then what is deemed as excessive? It turns out that any noise above 85 decibels is potentially dangerous, 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 inescapable consequence 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 optimum way to prevent hearing loss is to avoid loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would mean leaving their jobs and dropping their plans to watch their favorite band 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 sounds at work, or if you plan on attending a live performance, rather than avoiding the noise you can reduce 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 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 lower sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Contact 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 level of the sound drops by 75%. This law of physics could quite possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than standing front row adjacent to the speaker system, increase your distance as much as possible, weighing 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 amount 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 collective exposure time by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a concert or in a recording studio, for example, you’ll want to give your ears occasional breaks and time to recuperate.

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

If you regularly listen to music from a portable MP3 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 multiply the risk of irreversible damage.

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is challenging, if not impossible to adhere 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 can filter out ambient sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaking the 60/60 rule.

6. Schedule regular hearing exams

It’s never too soon or too late to schedule a hearing examination. Along with the ability to detect present 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 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 provide individualized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.

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