The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion people are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, caused by exposure to excess sound levels from personal audio devices and noisy environments such as clubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An projected 26 million Americans already suffer from the condition.
If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from direct exposure to extreme sound levels, then what is deemed as excessive? It turns out that any noise more than 85 decibels is potentially dangerous, and regrettably, many of our daily activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An music player at maximum volume, for instance, reaches 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 turns out 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 avoid loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would lead to resigning from their jobs and ditching their plans to watch their favorite band 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 sounds at work, or if you plan on going to a concert, rather than avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One possibility is to buy a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, understanding that they will in all likelihood create muffled sound. There is a better option.
Today, several custom earplugs are available that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are molded to the curves of your ear for optimum comfort, and they contain advanced electronics that lower sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Speak with your local hearing specialist for additional information.
2. Keep 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 drops by 75%. This law of physics may possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing front row adjacent to the speaker system, increase your distance as much as possible, balancing the benefits of a good view against a safe distance.
3. Take rest breaks for your ears
Hearing injury from subjection to loud sound is influenced by 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 lessen the intensity of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also limit your cumulative exposure time by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a concert or in a recording studio, for instance, make certain to give your ears periodic breaks and time to recuperate.
4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule
If you regularly listen to music from a portable 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 enhance the risk of irreversible damage.
5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is very difficult, if not impossible to abide by in certain listening conditions. 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 ambient noise.
The remedy? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones can filter out ambient sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaching the 60/60 rule.
6. Arrange for regular hearing exams
It’s never too early or too late to book a hearing test. In addition to being able to determine present hearing loss, a hearing exam can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.
Because 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 damage is done to schedule an appointment; prevention is the best medicine, and your local hearing specialist can offer customized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.