The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, caused by exposure to substantial sound levels from personal audio devices and noisy environments 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 being exposed to extreme sound levels, then what is regarded as excessive? It turns out that any noise higher than 85 decibels is potentially dangerous, and regrettably, many of our routine activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An MP3 player at maximum volume, for example, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can hit 130.
So is hearing loss an unavoidable outcome of our over-amplified life? 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 best way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would mean quitting 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 conserve your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud noise at work, or if you plan on attending a live performance, rather than 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, understanding that they will probably 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 optimum comfort, and they contain sophisticated electronics that lower sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Speak with your local hearing specialist for additional information.
2. Maintain a safe distance from the sound source
The inverse square law, as applied to sound, says that as you double the distance from the source of sound the intensity level of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics might possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of 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 injury from exposure to loud sound is dependent on three factors:
- the sound level or intensity
- your distance from the sound source
- the amount of time you’re exposed to the sound
You can decrease the intensity of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also control your cumulative exposure time by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a live concert or in a recording studio, for instance, make certain to give your ears periodic breaks and time to recover.
4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule
If you frequently listen to music from a portable music player, ensure that 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 multiply the risk of permanent damage.
5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is challenging, if not impossible to follow in certain listening environments. In the presence of disruptive 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 solution? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter background 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 set up a hearing examination. Along with being able to identify current 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 harm 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.