The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion people are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, brought about by exposure to elevated sound levels from personal audio devices and noisy settings such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An projected 26 million Americans already suffer from the condition.
If noise-induced hearing loss results from being exposed to extreme sound levels, then what is considered excessive? It turns out that any noise higher than 85 decibels is potentially harmful, and regretfully, many of our everyday activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An MP3 player at maximum volume, for example, reaches 105 decibels, and police sirens can reach 130.
So is hearing loss an unavoidable outcome of our over-amplified world? Not if you make the right decisions, 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 best way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would entail 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 recluse to salvage your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on going to a concert, rather than avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One solution is to pick up a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will most likely create muffled sound. There is a better option.
Today, several custom earplugs are obtainable that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are shaped to the contours of your ear for optimum comfort, and they incorporate advanced electronics that decrease sound volume uniformly across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Speak to your local hearing specialist for more information.
2. Keep a safe distance from the sound source
The inverse square law, as applied to sound, shows that as you double the distance from the source of sound the strength of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics may 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 against a safe distance.
3. Take rest breaks for your ears
Hearing damage from exposure to loud sound is influenced by on three factors:
- the sound level or intensity
- your distance from the sound source
- the amount of time you’re exposed to the sound
You can minimize the intensity 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 certain to give your ears routine breaks and time to recuperate.
4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule
If you frequently listen to music from a portable mp3 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 multiply the risk of irreversible damage.
5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is very difficult, if not impossible to comply with in certain listening environments. 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 ambient noise.
The answer? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones can filter out ambient sounds so that you can enjoy your music without violating the 60/60 rule.
6. Schedule regular hearing exams
It’s never too soon or too late to schedule a hearing assessment. Along with being able to detect current hearing loss, a hearing assessment can also establish a baseline for later comparison.
Ever since hearing loss develops gradually, 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 tailored hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.