The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion individuals are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, induced by exposure to substantial sound levels from personal music devices and noisy environments such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An estimated 26 million Americans currently suffer from the condition.
If noise-induced hearing loss results from being exposed to extreme sound levels, then what is considered to be excessive? It turns out that any sound more than 85 decibels is potentially damaging, and regretfully, many of our routine activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An MP3 player at maximum volume, for example, reaches 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can reach 130.
So is hearing loss an unavoidable consequence 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 optimum way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would lead to leaving their jobs and dropping their plans to watch their favorite music group perform live in concert.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to live like a recluse to keep your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud noise at work, or if you plan on going to a concert, rather than avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One approach is to pick up a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, realizing that they will probably create muffled sound. There is a better option.
Today, a number of 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 reduce sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Speak to your local hearing specialist for more information.
2. Maintain 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 intensity level of the sound declines by 75%. This law of physics could save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing in the front row next to the speaker system, increase your distance as much as possible, balancing 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 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 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 instance, make sure to give your ears routine 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 music player, ensure that 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 hard, if not impossible to adhere to in certain listening environments. 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 resolution? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter out ambient sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaching the 60/60 rule.
6. Arrange for regular hearing exams
It’s never too early or too late to schedule a hearing examination. Along with the ability to detect existing hearing loss, a hearing test can also establish a baseline for later comparison.
Given that hearing loss develops slowly, it is difficult to perceive. For most 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 damage is done to schedule an appointment; prevention is the best medicine, and your local hearing specialist can offer customized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.