Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe hearing loss only happens to seniors, you might be shocked to learn that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some amount of hearing loss in the United States. Additionally, the rate of hearing loss in teenagers is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 90s.

It should come as no surprise then that this has caught the attention of the World Health Organization, who in response issued a report cautioning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from unsafe listening habits.

Those dangerous practices include participating in noisy sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of earphones.

But it’s the use of headphones that may be the most significant threat.

Think about how often we all listen to music since it became portable. We listen in the car, in the workplace, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while drifting off to sleep. We can integrate music into almost every aspect of our lives.

That level of exposure—if you’re not careful—can gradually and silently steal your hearing at a very early age, resulting in hearing aids down the road.

And given that no one’s prepared to abandon music, we have to find other ways to safeguard our hearing. Thankfully, there are simple and easy measures we can all take.

The following are three essential safety tips you can use to preserve your hearing without compromising your music.

1. Limit Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss, but you don’t need to buy yourself a sound meter to measure the decibel output of your music.

Instead, a useful general guideline is to keep your music player volume at no more than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Any higher and you’ll probably be over the 85-decibel ceiling.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 players can pump out more than 105 decibels. And since the decibel scale, like the Richter scale, is logarithmic, 105 decibels is approximately 100 times as intense as 85.

An additional tip: normal conversation registers at about 60 decibels. So, if while listening to music you have to raise your voice when communicating to someone, that’s a good indication that you should turn the volume down.

2. Limit the Time

Hearing injury is not only a function of volume; it’s also a function of time. The longer you subject your ears to loud sounds, the more substantial the injury can be.

Which brings us to the next rule of thumb: the 60/60 rule. We previously suggested that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its max volume. The other component is making sure you limit the listening time to under 60 minutes a day at this volume. And bear in mind that lower volumes can handle longer listening times.

Taking regular rest breaks from the sound is also important, as 60 decibels uninterrupted for two hours can be far more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed throughout the day.

3. Choose the Right Headphones

The reason many of us have difficulty keeping our music player volume at less than 60 percent of its maximum is due to background noise. As surrounding noise increases, like in a busy fitness center, we have to compensate by increasing the music volume.

The solution to this is the use of noise-cancelling headphones. If background noise is lessened, sound volume can be limited, and high-quality music can be enjoyed at lower volumes.

Lower-quality earbuds, alternatively, have the dual disadvantage of sitting closer to your eardrum and being incapable of controlling background noise. The quality of sound is lower as well, and coupled with the distracting external sound, increasing the volume is the only method to compensate.

The bottom line: it’s truly worth the money to invest in a pair of top quality headphones, ideally ones that have noise-cancelling functionality. That way, you can adhere to the 60/60 rule without sacrificing the quality of your music and, more significantly, your hearing down the road.

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