The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion individuals are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, generated by exposure to extreme sound levels from personal music devices and very loud environments such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An estimated 26 million Americans already suffer from the condition.
If noise-induced hearing loss results from being exposed to excessive sound levels, then what is considered excessive? It turns out that any noise higher than 85 decibels is potentially damaging, and regrettably, many of our regular activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An music player at maximum volume, for example, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can reach 130.
So is hearing loss an inevitable outcome of our over-amplified world? Not if you make the right choices, 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 entirely. Of course, for most people that would lead to quitting their jobs and dropping 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 spare your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud noise at work, or if you plan on going to a live concert, rather than avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One method is to pick up a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, realizing that they will almost certainly 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 curves of your ear for maximum comfort, and they include sophisticated electronics that decrease sound volume evenly across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Contact your local hearing professional for more 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 declines by 75%. This law of physics could quite possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than standing in the front row next to the speaker system, increase your distance as much as possible, managing 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 dependent on three factors:
- the sound level or intensity
- your distance from the sound source
- the length of time you’re exposed to the sound
You can reduce 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 live concert or in a recording studio, for example, make sure to give your ears routine breaks and time to recover.
4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule
If you regularly 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 per day. Higher volume and longer listening times enlarge the risk of irreversible damage.
5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is very hard, if not impossible to follow in certain listening conditions. 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 surrounding noise.
The resolution? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter ambient sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaking the 60/60 rule.
6. Arrange for regular hearing exams
It’s never too early or too late to schedule a hearing examination. Along with the ability to identify present hearing loss, a hearing exam can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.
Given that hearing loss develops slowly, it is difficult to perceive. For most 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 customized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.