The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, brought about by exposure to excessive sound levels from personal mp3 devices and very loud settings such as clubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An projected 26 million Americans already suffer from the condition.

If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from exposure to extreme sound levels, then what is considered excessive? It turns out that any noise higher than 85 decibels is potentially injurious, and regretfully, many of our regular activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An music player at maximum volume, for example, reaches 105 decibels, and police 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 optimum way to prevent hearing loss is to stay away from loud noise completely. Of course, for most people that would lead to quitting 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 hermit to salvage your hearing. If you’re exposed to loud noise at work, or if you plan on going to a concert, instead of 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, understanding 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 include sophisticated electronics that reduce sound volume evenly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Talk to your local hearing specialist for additional 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 strength of the sound declines by 75%. This law of physics could very well save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing front row adjacent to the speaker system, increase your distance as much as possible, managing 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 amount 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 length of exposure by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a concert or in a recording studio, for instance, be sure you give your ears recurrent breaks and time to recuperate.

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

If you often listen to music from a portable music player, make sure 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 raise the risk of long-term damage.

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is hard, if not impossible to adhere to in certain listening conditions. 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 surrounding noise.

The solution? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones can filter out 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 exam. Along with the ability to detect existing hearing loss, a hearing examination can also establish a baseline for subsequent comparison.

Given that hearing loss develops slowly, it is difficult to notice. 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 tailored hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.