The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion individuals are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, generated by exposure to substantial sound levels from personal audio devices and very loud settings such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An estimated 26 million Americans currently suffer from the condition.
If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from direct exposure to elevated sound levels, then what is considered excessive? It turns out that any noise above 85 decibels is potentially damaging, and regrettably, many of our everyday activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An music player at maximum volume, for example, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can hit 130.
So is hearing loss an inescapable outcome 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 ideal way to prevent hearing loss is to avoid loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would lead to abandoning 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 keep your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on attending a concert, rather than avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One alternative is to pick up a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, understanding that they will most 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 curves of your ear for maximum comfort, and they contain sophisticated electronics that decrease sound volume evenly across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Talk to your local hearing professional 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 of the sound declines by 75%. This law of physics might 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, weighing the benefits of a good view against a safe distance.
3. Take rest breaks for your ears
Hearing impairment from exposure 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 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 limit your cumulative length of exposure 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 regular breaks and time to recuperate.
4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule
If you often listen to music from a portable MP3 player, make sure 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 increase the risk of irreversible damage.
5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is very difficult, if not impossible to stick to in certain listening situations. 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 answer? 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 book a hearing test. Along with the ability to identify existing hearing loss, a hearing assessment can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.
Because hearing loss develops gradually, 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 harm is done to schedule an appointment; prevention is the best medicine, and your local hearing specialist can offer individualized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.