The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion individuals are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, caused by exposure to extreme sound levels from personal audio devices and noisy settings such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An estimated 26 million Americans already suffer from the condition.
If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from direct exposure to excessive sound levels, then what is regarded as excessive? It turns out that any sound over 85 decibels is potentially harmful, and unfortunately, many of our everyday activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An mp3 music player at maximum volume, for example, reaches 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can hit 130.
So is hearing loss an unavoidable consequence of our over-amplified world? Not if you make the right choices, 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 optimum way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would entail abandoning their jobs and ditching their plans to watch their favorite music group perform live in concert.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to live like a hermit to keep your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud noise at work, or if you plan on attending a live show, instead of avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One option is to pick up a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will likely create muffled sound. There is a better option.
Today, a variety of custom earplugs are available that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are molded to the contours of your ear for optimum comfort, and they include advanced electronics that lower sound volume uniformly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Speak with your local hearing specialist for more 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 of the sound drops by 75%. This law of physics could quite possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing in the front row adjacent 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 damage from subjection 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 lower the intensity level of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also minimize your collective length of exposure by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a concert or in a recording studio, for example, remember to give your ears recurrent breaks and time to recover.
4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule
If you regularly listen to music from a portable MP3 player, ensure that 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 increase the risk of permanent damage.
5. Buy noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is difficult, if not impossible to comply with in certain listening conditions. 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 surrounding noise.
The answer? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter out ambient sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaching the 60/60 rule.
6. Schedule regular hearing exams
It’s never too soon or too late to set up a hearing examination. Together with being able to detect current hearing loss, a hearing exam can also establish a baseline for future comparison.
Given that hearing loss develops slowly, 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 supply customized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.