The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion individuals are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, induced by exposure to elevated sound levels from personal audio devices and very loud environments such as nightclubs, bars, concerts, and sporting events. An projected 26 million Americans already suffer from the condition.

If noise-induced hearing loss occurs from being exposed to high sound levels, then what is regarded as excessive? It turns out that any sound higher than 85 decibels is potentially injurious, and regretfully, many of our normal activities expose us to sounds well above this limit. An MP3 player at maximum volume, for instance, reaches 105 decibels, and law enforcement sirens can hit 130.

So is hearing loss an unavoidable consequence 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 entirely. Of course, for most people that would lead to quitting their jobs and ditching their plans to watch their favorite music group perform live in concert.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to live like a recluse to keep your hearing. If you’re subjected 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 buy a low cost pair of foam earplugs at the convenience store, realizing that they will likely create muffled sound. There is a better option.

Today, several custom earplugs are available that fit comfortably in the ear. Custom earplugs are molded to the curves of your ear for optimum comfort, and they incorporate advanced electronics that decrease sound volume uniformly across frequencies so that music and speech can be perceived clearly and naturally. Speak 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, says that as you double the distance from the source of sound the intensity of the sound drops by 75%. This law of physics might save your hearing at a rock concert; instead of standing in the front row adjacent to the speaker, increase your distance as much as possible, weighing 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 influenced by 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 minimize the intensity level 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 concert or in a recording studio, for example, make certain to give your ears regular breaks and time to recuperate.

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

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

5. Buy noise-canceling headphones

The 60/60 rule is very hard, if not impossible to abide by 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 ambient noise.

The answer? Noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones can filter out ambient sounds so that you can enjoy your music without breaching the 60/60 rule.

6. Arrange for regular hearing exams

It’s never too soon or too late to book a hearing test. Along with being able to detect current hearing loss, a hearing exam can also establish a baseline for future comparison.

Considering 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 furnish personal hearing protection solutions so that you can avoid hearing loss altogether.