The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, generated by exposure to intense sound levels from personal mp3 devices and very loud settings such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. A projected 26 million Americans currently suffer from the condition.

If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from being exposed to excess sound levels, then what is considered to be excessive? It turns out that any sound more than 85 decibels is potentially hazardous, and regretfully, many of our routine activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An portable music player at maximum volume, for example, reaches 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can reach 130.

So is hearing loss an inescapable consequence 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 top way to prevent hearing loss is to avoid loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would lead to leaving their jobs and dropping their plans to watch their favorite band perform live in concert.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to live like a recluse to save 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 lower its volume with earplugs. One possibility is to buy a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, understanding that they will likely 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 molded to the curves of your ear for optimum comfort, and they contain sophisticated 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 strength of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics might possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing in the front row next to the speaker, 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 injury 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 exposed to the sound

You can decrease the intensity 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, you’ll want to give your ears periodic 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 per day. Higher volume and longer listening times multiply the risk of permanent damage.

5. Purchase noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is difficult, 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 solution? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones can 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 soon or too late to book a hearing test. Together with being able to determine existing hearing loss, a hearing exam can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.

Since hearing loss develops slowly, 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 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 supply tailored hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.