The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion individuals are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, brought about by exposure to intense sound levels from personal audio devices and noisy 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 exposure to high sound levels, then what is considered excessive? It turns out that any noise over 85 decibels is potentially dangerous, and unfortunately, many of our day-to-day activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An music player at maximum volume, for example, reaches 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 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 ideal way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would mean leaving 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 hermit to conserve your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on attending a live show, instead of avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One solution is to buy a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will almost certainly 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 feature sophisticated electronics that reduce sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Speak with your local hearing professional for additional information.
2. Keep a safe distance from the sound source
The inverse square law, as applied to sound, states that as you double the distance from the source of sound the strength of the sound drops by 75%. This law of physics may save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than standing front row adjacent to the speaker, 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 impairment from exposure 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 subjected 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 minimize 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, be sure you give your ears regular breaks and time to recover.
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 per day. Higher volume and longer listening times enhance the risk of permanent damage.
5. Buy noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is difficult, if not impossible to follow in certain listening circumstances. 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 remedy? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter 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 arrange a hearing test. In addition to the ability to diagnose current hearing loss, a hearing exam can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.
Because hearing loss develops slowly, it is difficult to detect. For the majority of 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.