An estimated 275 million people across the globe can’t hear clearly all the sounds they love. These people suffer from hearing loss, which the World Health Organization lists as the number one sensory disability in the world.

The most common cause is excessive noise. Whether it’s a one-time exposure to an intense, “impulse” sound, such as gunfire, or by repeated exposure to loud sounds over time, such as machinery at work, noise has the potential to rob people of their hearing.

The effects of hearing loss extend well beyond having to turn up the television. It strains a person’s ability to understand conversations, which can cause problems and misunderstandings at work and at home. Hearing loss also leads to isolation from family, friends and the environment.

Step 1: Wear hearing protection

The most important step to preventing hearing loss is to wear hearing protection.

There are many great hearing protection options, but sometimes it’s a challenge to know which to choose and how and when to wear it correctly. Hearing protection is now available that is comfortable, fits well, and includes options to enhance communication – such as microphones and two-way radio connections for people who need them.

Step 2: Be mindful around the clock

Sounds louder than 85 decibels (dBA) are more common than people might think. Prolonged exposure to these high-level sounds can permanently damage your hearing, and cause ringing in the ears, along with other symptoms. Most people don’t carry decibel meters, so it’s good to know where those sound levels can occur. Some examples include:

Attending a football game (100 to 120 dBA)

Using a leaf blower or chainsaw (95-120 dBA)

Riding a motorcycle (80-110 dBA)

Attending a rock concert (90-120 dBA)

Listening to a personal music player (75-114 dBA)

Shooting firearms (140 to 165 dBA)

Hearing these sounds occasionally, for a limited time, isn’t a major threat to hearing. But repeated exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing damage over time.

Step 3: Reduce the volume or increase distance

Work-related noise might be unavoidable, but many times, you can be in control of the noise around you. Whenever possible, select quieter vacuums, chain saws, leaf blowers, power tools, etc. Also, be aware that the volume controls on portable entertainment devices can exceed 110 dB – levels that may be hazardous if you listen for many hours a day. If you aren’t able to turn down loud sounds you encounter, take a few steps back from the source of the loud sound. Even a few feet of distance between you and a loud sound can lower the decibel levels that hit you.

Noise-induced hearing loss happens slowly over time, so the right protection today can make a big difference tomorrow. Make a commitment to wear hearing protection so you can continue to enjoy all the sounds you love.