The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss, brought about by exposure to intense sound levels from personal music devices and noisy settings such as nightclubs, 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 extreme sound levels, then what is deemed as 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 limit. An music player at maximum volume, for example, reaches 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can reach 130.

So is hearing loss an unavoidable consequence of our over-amplified world? 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 top way to prevent hearing loss is to avoid loud noise entirely. Of course, for most people that would lead to abandoning 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 recluse to salvage your hearing. If you’re subjected 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 possibility is to buy a cheap pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, recognizing that they will almost certainly 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 curves of your ear for optimum comfort, and they feature sophisticated electronics that reduce sound volume evenly across frequencies so that music and speech can be heard clearly and naturally. Speak to your local hearing professional for more information.

2. Maintain 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 intensity level of the sound falls by 75%. This law of physics might possibly save your hearing at a rock concert; rather than 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 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 control your cumulative exposure time by taking rest breaks from the sound. If you’re at a concert or in a recording studio, for instance, ensure that you give your ears routine breaks and time to recuperate.

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

If you frequently listen to music from a portable mp3 music player, ensure that 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 increase the risk of irreversible damage.

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is very hard, if not impossible to stick to in certain listening circumstances. 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 remedy? 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 soon or too late to book a hearing test. In addition to the ability to determine present hearing loss, a hearing assessment 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 damage is done to schedule an appointment; prevention is the best medicine, and your local hearing specialist can provide tailored hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.