The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion individuals are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, brought about by exposure to substantial sound levels from personal mp3 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 being exposed to elevated sound levels, then what is considered to be excessive? It turns out that any noise more than 85 decibels is potentially injurious, and unfortunately, many of our routine activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An music player at maximum volume, for instance, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can hit 130.
So is hearing loss an inevitable outcome of our over-amplified world? Not if you make the right decisions, 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 top way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would mean leaving their jobs and ditching 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 conserve your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud noise at work, or if you plan on going to a live show, instead of avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One approach is to buy a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing 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 curves of your ear for optimum comfort, and they feature sophisticated electronics that decrease sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Talk 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, shows that as you double the distance from the source of sound the strength of the sound declines by 75%. This law of physics could very well save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than standing in the 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 impairment from exposure to loud sound is influenced by on three factors:
- the sound level or intensity
- your distance from the sound source
- the length of time you’re subjected to the sound
You can reduce 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 live concert or in a recording studio, for example, make certain to give your ears recurrent 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 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 enlarge the risk of permanent damage.
5. Buy noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is very hard, if not impossible to adhere to in certain listening circumstances. In the presence of 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 will 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 arrange a hearing exam. Together with the ability to diagnose current hearing loss, a hearing test can also establish a baseline for future comparison.
Because hearing loss develops gradually, it is difficult to detect. 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 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.