The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion individuals are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, induced by exposure to elevated sound levels from personal mp3 devices and noisy settings such as clubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An projected 26 million Americans currently suffer from the condition.

If noise-induced hearing loss results from direct exposure to intense sound levels, then what is regarded as excessive? It turns out that any noise more than 85 decibels is potentially injurious, and unfortunately, many of our routine activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An music player at maximum volume, for instance, reaches 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can hit 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 top way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would lead to walking away from 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 hermit to salvage your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud noise at work, or if you plan on attending a live concert, rather than avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One alternative is to pick up a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, understanding 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 formed to the contours of your ear for optimum comfort, and they incorporate advanced electronics that reduce sound volume uniformly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Contact your local hearing professional 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 quite 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, weighing 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:

  1. the sound level or intensity
  2. your distance from the sound source
  3. the length of time you’re subjected to the sound

You can lessen the intensity level of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also limit your cumulative exposure time 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 routine breaks and time to recover.

4. Turn down the music – follow the 60/60 rule

If you regularly listen to music from a portable MP3 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 raise the risk of long-term damage.

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is difficult, if not impossible to comply with in certain listening circumstances. In the presence of very 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 solution? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones will filter out 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 early or too late to book a hearing exam. In addition to the ability to detect present hearing loss, a hearing exam can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.

Ever 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 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 furnish custom hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.