The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion individuals are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, caused by exposure to intense sound levels from personal mp3 devices and very loud settings 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 high sound levels, then what is considered to be excessive? It turns out that any noise higher than 85 decibels is potentially injurious, and unfortunately, many of our normal activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An portable music player at maximum volume, for instance, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can hit 130.
So is hearing loss an inescapable 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 ideal way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would mean quitting their jobs and ditching 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 spare your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud noise at work, or if you plan on going to a live performance, instead of avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One method is to buy a cheap 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 available that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are shaped to the contours of your ear for optimum comfort, and they include advanced electronics that reduce sound volume evenly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Talk to your local hearing professional for more information.
2. Keep a safe distance from the sound source
The inverse square law, as applied to sound, says that as you double the distance from the source of sound the strength of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics might save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing front row next 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 damage from subjection 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 lower the intensity level of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also lessen your collective exposure time by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a live concert or in a recording studio, for instance, you’ll want to give your ears occasional breaks and time to recuperate.
4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule
If you often listen to music from a portable MP3 player, ensure that you keep 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 long-term damage.
5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones
The 60/60 rule is very hard, if not impossible to adhere to in certain listening conditions. 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 ambient noise.
The resolution? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter ambient sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaking the 60/60 rule.
6. Arrange for regular hearing exams
It’s never too soon or too late to arrange a hearing exam. In addition to being able to detect current hearing loss, a hearing examination 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 furnish personal hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.