The primary cause of preventable hearing loss is noise — either from a single intense blast of sound at close range… or from repeated exposure to loud noise over an extended period. Alarming: About 10% of the US population is exposed to dangerously high levels of noise every day… and 10 million Americans already have irreversible noise-induced damage. Self-defense…

Learn where the danger lies. Many seemingly normal situations expose you to excessive noise. These include places like exercise classes, movie theaters, sports arenas and airports… activities such as snowmobiling, motorcycling and motorboating… and the use of snowblowers, hedge trimmers and many other power tools. Test: You’re in a risky situation if you must raise your voice to be heard by someone an arm’s length away… if you can hear a nearby person speaking but can’t understand what she’s saying… if your ears ring after leaving the environment… or if a person next to you can hear sounds from the headphones of your personal audio player (Walkman, iPod), cell phone or Bluetooth headset.

Plug your ears when you can’t avoid being near noise. Good: Foam or silicone earplugs sold at drugstores (about $5 to $10 per pack) are adequate for moderately loud environments, such as most of the situations above. Better: For louder situations, such as when using a leaf blower, opt for muff-style ear protectors (sold at sporting-goods stores). Best: Wear earplugs and earmuffs together in very loud environments, such as at a racetrack.

Beware of certain medications. Some chemotherapy drugs and perhaps some prescription painkillers can damage hearing permanently. If you take medication and experience a change in hearing, call your doctor immediately. Note: Nonprescription anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Motrin), can cause temporary hearing loss when taken in excessive doses.

Take preemptive supplements. Some research suggests that vitamins A, C and E help neutralize harmful free radicals that form as a result of ear-damaging noise.. and that magnesium increases the vitamins’ effects. Take all four supplements one hour before you expect to be in a noisy environment, then continue once daily for five days afterward. If you are often exposed to loud noise, take them indefinitely. Recommended: Magnesium at 300 mg… vitamin A at 2,300 international units (IU)… vitamin C at 75 mg… vitamin E at 400 mg.