Maintaining hearing health primarily requires protecting the ears from loud noise to make sure people will retain good hearing into old age. Brief exposure to extremely loud noise can cause permanent damage and sustained or regular exposure to loud noise can be equally dangerous. People can protect their hearing by wearing appropriate safety equipment, including ear plugs and headphones. If the exposure is occupational, an employer should pay for hearing protection.
A good rule of thumb for protecting hearing health is that if you are in an environment where the decibel level is loud enough that you have to shout to be heard, you should use hearing protection. In an environment like a restaurant, where hearing protection would interfere with the ability to enjoy the space, loud noise is a sign that other measures are needed to protect the hearing of patrons and staff. For settings like a car or at home, loud noise from a stereo or television should be turned down to prevent hearing damage.
Both ear plugs and headphones are available to preserve hearing health. They are rated for specific environments, and it is important to select the right product. People who work around loud engines, for example, need a different level of protection than people working with explosives and ammunition. People like musicians should wear hearing protection at concerts to protect their ears from the amplified sound, as they are occupationally exposed on a regular basis and hearing damage is a risk.
For people wearing headphones to listen to music, a common hearing health concern is listening to music at sustained high volume. If other people can hear a person's headphones from three feet (one meter) away, they are too loud. People turning up music to avoid sounds around them may want to consider purchasing noise-canceling headphones. These will mute noise in the surrounding environment, allowing people to listen to music at a safe volume level.
Regular hearing exams can also be a good idea for hearing health. A doctor can identify changes in hearing early, providing patients with a chance to take corrective measures to protect their hearing. If people start to notice ringing in their ears, a muffling or blunting of noise on one side, or any other changes in their hearing, they should see a doctor immediately. Hearing health is important, and once hearing loss starts to occur, it cannot be reversed.