Listen up: Around 48 million Americans have hearing loss in at least one ear, and men are more than five times as likely as women to suffer from it, according to research from Johns Hopkins University.

Blame getting older, says Alison Grimes, Au.D., Director of Audiology and Newborn Hearing Screening at the UCLA Medical Center. Irreparable damage to outer hair cells, which play a huge role in amplifying outside sounds, occurs when sounds are simply too loud. “Noise damage is cumulative over a lifetime,” says Grimes. And with age comes an increased likelihood that you have exposed yourself to more destructive noise, and will have more difficulty understanding speech in loud environments. 

Grimes says you’re aging your ears earlier with exposure to live shows of your favorite bands, overly amplified earbuds, loud occupational noises, and even regular, everyday sounds from your environment, like car horns and ambulance sirens. 

No one will go through life ear-damage free, and no one is immune to hearing hazards, says Grimes. But it’s easy to reduce your amount of impairment. Hear responsibly by taking the following measures:

• Distance yourself from loud noises 

• Turn down the TV or your music even if it doesn’t seem loud to you 

• Give your ears a 10-minute break after long durations of noise exposure

• Avoid prolonged exposure to low-frequency sounds, and even short durations of high-frequency sounds

• Cover your ears with appropriate earplugs if your job or lifestyle doesn’t allow you to easily escape noise

If you have real concerns about your ear health, seek the help of your physician or a licensed audiologist, says Grimes. Consider a baseline hearing test when you reach 55 or if you feel your ears may be failing, suggests Shannon Van Hyfte, Au.D., CCC-A, Director of the Audiology Clinic at Purdue University.

But if you’re just curious to test your own hearing abilities or you suspect there may be something up with your ears, check out these tests you can quickly do yourself:

Hit the Great Outdoors

Take a few steps outside and listen to the environment around you. If your hearing is on par, you should be able to hear nature’s subtle noises, like the sounds of leaves rustling, says Van Hyfte. People with hearing loss usually can’t perceive these sounds. 

Enlist Another Pair of Ears

Judging your hearing can sometimes require more than just two ears. So ask a buddy to lend his. Ask about his ability to hear and make out the conversation of the couple at the bar or the news report on TV, suggests Van Hyfte. It’s not good enough to just be able to hear that people are talking—you should hear what they’re saying. If your friends or family can pick it out and you can’t, it’s probably time to make an appointment.

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