The ironic part of hearing loss is that we don’t tend to begin appreciating our favorite sounds until after we’ve lost the capability to clearly hear them. We don’t pause to think about, for instance, how much we value a good conversation with a friend until we have to continually ask them to repeat themselves.

Whether it’s your favorite Mozart album or the sounds of a Bluejay first thing in the morning, your quality of life is directly tied to your ability to hear—whether you recognize it or not. And if you wait until after you’ve lost your hearing to come to this realization, you’re going to devote a whole lot of time and effort trying to get it back.

So how can you safeguard your ability to hear?

Here are 6 ways you could lose your hearing and what you can do about it.

1. Genetics and aging

Age-related hearing loss, also called presbycusis, is the loss of hearing that progressively arises as we get older. Along with presbycusis, there is also some evidence suggesting that genetics plays a role, and that some of us are more prone to hearing loss than others.

While there’s not much you can do to stop the process of getting older or tweak your genetics, you can protect against noise-induced hearing loss from the other sources discussed below. And keep in mind that age-related hearing loss is considerably more difficult to treat if aggravated by avoidable damage.

2. Traveling

Persistent exposure to sound volumes above 85 decibels can bring about permanent hearing loss, which is not-so-good news if you happen to own a convertible. New research reveals that driving a convertible with the top down at excessive speeds yields an average sound volume level of 90 decibels. Motorcyclists face even higher sounds and those who take the subway are at risk as well.

So does everyone either have to forego travel or live with permanent earplugs? Not quite, but you should find ways to reduce your cumulative noise exposure during travel. If you drive a convertible, roll up your windows and drive a little slower; if you ride a motorcycle, wear a helmet and think about earplugs; and if you ride the subway, consider buying noise-canceling headphones.

3. Going to work

As reported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 22 million employees in the US are exposed to potentially hazardous noise volumes at work. The highest risk jobs are in manufacturing, farming, construction, the military, and the music industry.

The last thing you want is to spend your entire work life accumulating hearing loss that will prevent you from making the most of your retirement. Get in touch with your employer about its hearing protection plan, and if they don’t have one, consult with your local hearing specialist for personalized solutions.

4. Taking drugs and smoking

Smoking interferes with blood flow, on top of other things, which could enhance your risk of developing hearing loss—if you really needed another reason to stop smoking. Antibiotics, strong pain medications, and a large number of other drugs are “ototoxic,” or damaging to the cells of hearing. In fact, there are more than 200 known ototoxic medications.

The bottom line: avoid consuming ototoxic drugs or medications unless completely necessary. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions.

5. Listening to music

85 is turning out to be quite an inconvenient number. Almost all of our favorite hobbies generate decibel levels just over this limit, and anything over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. If the limit were just a little higher, say 100 decibels, we wouldn’t have to worry about it so much.

But 85 it is. And portable music players at full volume reach more than 100 decibels while rock concerts reach more than 110. The solution is straightforward: turn down your iPod, wear earplugs at live shows, and minimize your time of exposure to the music.

6. Getting sick or injured

Some disorders, such as diabetes, together with any traumatic head injuries, places you at greater risk of developing hearing loss. If you have diabetes, frequent exercise, a balanced diet, and regular monitoring of glucose levels is vital. And if you ride a motorcycle, wearing a helmet will help prevent traumatic head injuries.

Talk to Your Hearing Specialist

While there are several ways to lose your hearing, a few basic lifestyle alterations can help you preserve your hearing for life. Remember: the modest inconvenience of wearing custom earplugs, driving with the windows up, or turning down your iPod are small compared to the major inconvenience of hearing loss later in life.

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