The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, induced by exposure to excess sound levels from personal audio devices and very loud settings such as clubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An estimated 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 excessive? It turns out that any sound higher than 85 decibels is potentially damaging, and unfortunately, many of our daily activities expose us to sounds well above this threshold. An music player at maximum volume, for instance, hits 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can reach 130.

So is hearing loss an unavoidable consequence of our over-amplified life? Not if you make the right decisions, because it also happens 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 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 salvage your hearing. If you’re subjected to loud sounds at work, or if you plan on attending a live show, instead of avoiding the noise you can reduce its volume with earplugs. One option is to buy a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will probably create muffled sound. There is a better option.

Today, several 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 incorporate sophisticated electronics that lower sound volume symmetrically across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Speak with your local hearing professional for additional 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 drops by 75%. This law of physics could save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than standing front row next to the speaker system, 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 injury from subjection to loud sound is influenced by 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 minimize the intensity of sound with earplugs, you can increase your distance from the sound source, and you can also lessen 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, remember to give your ears occasional 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 raise the risk of permanent damage.

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is very hard, if not impossible to follow 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 background sounds so that you can enjoy your music without violating the 60/60 rule.

6. Arrange for regular hearing exams

It’s never too early or too late to book a hearing test. In addition to being able to diagnose present hearing loss, a hearing test can also establish a baseline for later 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 harm is done to schedule an appointment; prevention is the best medicine, and your local hearing specialist can provide customized hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.