The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion people are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, caused by exposure to intense sound levels from personal music 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 being exposed to high sound levels, then what is considered excessive? It turns out that any noise more than 85 decibels is potentially harmful, 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 reach 130.
So is hearing loss an inescapable outcome of our over-amplified life? 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 avoid loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would entail walking away from their jobs and dropping their plans to see their favorite music group perform live in concert.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to live like a recluse to save your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on attending a live performance, instead of avoiding the noise you can lower its volume with earplugs. One alternative is to pick up a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will likely create muffled sound. There is a better option.
Today, a variety of custom earplugs are obtainable 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 lower sound volume evenly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Talk 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, shows that as you double the distance from the source of sound the intensity level of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics could 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 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 decrease the intensity level 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, ensure that you give your ears occasional 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 enhance the risk of irreversible damage.
5. Buy noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is challenging, if not impossible to adhere to in certain listening circumstances. 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 resolution? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter background sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaching the 60/60 rule.
6. Schedule regular hearing exams
It’s never too soon or too late to set up a hearing assessment. In addition to the ability to detect existing hearing loss, a hearing test can also establish a baseline for later comparison.
Considering 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 offer tailored hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.