The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion people are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, generated by exposure to elevated sound levels from personal music devices and very loud settings such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An projected 26 million Americans currently suffer from the condition.
If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from being exposed to intense sound levels, then what is considered to be excessive? It turns out that any noise higher than 85 decibels is potentially damaging, and regrettably, many of our day-to-day activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An music player at maximum volume, for example, hits 105 decibels, and police sirens can hit 130.
So is hearing loss an unavoidable consequence of our over-amplified life? Not if you make the right decisions, 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 optimum way to prevent hearing loss is to avoid loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would lead to leaving their jobs and dropping 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 salvage your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on attending a live concert, rather than avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One approach is to pick up a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, understanding that they will probably create muffled sound. There is a better option.
Today, several custom earplugs are obtainable that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are molded to the curves of your ear for maximum comfort, and they incorporate advanced electronics that lower sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Speak to your local hearing professional 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 declines by 75%. This law of physics might possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than standing in the front row adjacent to the speaker system, increase your distance as much as possible, weighing the benefits of a good view versus a safe distance.
3. Take rest breaks for your ears
Hearing impairment 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 exposed to the sound
You can reduce the intensity of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also limit 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, be sure you give your ears recurrent breaks and time to recuperate.
4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule
If you frequently 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 each day. Higher volume and longer listening times raise the risk of long-term damage.
5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is challenging, if not impossible to stick to 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 ambient noise.
The remedy? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter out ambient 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 assessment. Along with the ability to determine 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 the majority of 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 provide personal hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.