The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, brought about by exposure to excessive sound levels from personal music devices and noisy environments such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An projected 26 million Americans currently suffer from the condition.
If noise-induced hearing loss results from being exposed to intense sound levels, then what is deemed as excessive? It turns out that any sound higher than 85 decibels is potentially injurious, and regretfully, many of our normal activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An mp3 music 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 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 top way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would entail abandoning their jobs and dropping their plans to see 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 noise at work, or if you plan on going to a live performance, rather than avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One solution is to pick up a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will probably create muffled sound. There is a better option.
Today, several custom earplugs are available that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are shaped to the contours of your ear for optimum comfort, and they contain advanced electronics that lower sound volume uniformly across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Talk 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, states that as you double the distance from the source of sound the strength of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics may possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than standing in the front row adjacent to the speaker, increase your distance as much as possible, balancing the benefits of a good view versus a safe distance.
3. Take rest breaks for your ears
Hearing injury 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 subjected to the sound
You can decrease the intensity level of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also minimize your cumulative exposure time by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a live concert or in a recording studio, for example, 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 music 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 increase the risk of permanent damage.
5. Buy noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is very hard, if not impossible to comply with 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 solution? 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. In addition to the ability to identify present hearing loss, a hearing assessment can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.
Since hearing loss develops gradually, it is difficult to detect. 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 supply tailored hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.