Often referred to as the invisible disability, hearing loss is slowly tightening its grasp on the American population. According to recent research, around 48 million or 20 percent of the entire American population suffers from some form of hearing loss. While age-related hearing loss has always been present (one in every three people over the age of 65 suffers from hearing loss), the worrying fact is that around 30 in every 1000 children suffer from weakened hearing.  

Genetics aside, the most common cause of hearing loss is exposure to excessive noise. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is caused by exposure to loud sounds and hits adolescents and teens particularly hard. Because of this, 12 percent of children in the U.S. have already been impacted by hearing loss. 

While the natural causes of hearing loss (age and genetics) cannot be fought against, you can still take a few precautionary steps to protect your ears from damage.

Here are the three top recommendations from hearing care providers: 

1. Avoid loud noises

According to research, up to one-half of all NIHL cases could have been reduced or even prevented if the individuals were not exposed to excessive noise. Therefore, whenever possible, avoid loud noises or environments that are too loud. For instance, try keeping your car windows rolled up when you are stuck in heavy traffic or avoid sitting right next to the stage at a concert without proper ear protection. When dining out, choose a restaurant where you can talk clearly without having to raise your voice. 

2. Limit exposure to semi-loud noises

Even sounds that aren’t excessively loud can and do cause harm if you listen to them for too long. Sounds are measured using decibels; the higher the number of decibels (dB), the shorter the length of time your ears should have to bear it. According to experts, anything over 70 dB can be damaging to the ears. For example, being exposed even for a short amount of time to a sound with the dB rating of 120 can permanently damage your hearing. However, being exposed for an extended amount of time to sounds just over 70 dB can still cause harm.

3. Wear ear protection

If you find yourself working in an environment that exposes you to loud noises, it’s crucial to wear proper ear protection. Different types of ear protection are available, including disposable earplugs, custom-made earplugs, earmuffs and noise-cancellation headphones. In addition, you should have your ear protection on at home while using a lawnmower or power tools, as well. Foam earplugs can be bought for as low as $5 from most drugstores.

If you have already taken the precautionary steps mentioned above, but know people around you who do not, it is important that you guide them as well. Ear protection is essential to keeping your ears and hearing healthy for years to come. Talk with a hearing care professional in your area to find out more about ear protection and what option would be best for your circumstances.