Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to seniors, you may be surprised to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some measure of hearing loss in the United States. In addition, the rate of hearing loss in teenagers is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 90s.

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

Those unsafe habits include attending deafening sporting events and concerts without hearing protection, along with the unsafe use of earphones.

But it’s the use of earphones that could very well be the greatest threat.

Consider how often we all listen to music since it became mobile. We listen in the car, at work, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while going to sleep. We can incorporate music into nearly every aspect of our lives.

That quantity of exposure—if you’re not cautious—can slowly and quietly steal your hearing at a young age, leading to hearing aids later in life.

And considering that no one’s prepared to give up music, we have to determine other ways to protect our hearing. Fortunately, there are simple and easy preventative measures we can all adopt.

Here are three vital safety guidelines you can use to protect your hearing without sacrificing your music.

1. Limit Volume

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

Instead, an effective general guideline is to keep your music player volume at no higher than 60 percent of the max volume. Any higher and you’ll likely be over the 85-decibel threshold.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 music 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.

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

2. Limit Time

Hearing damage 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 extensive the injury can be.

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

Taking regular rest breaks from the sound is also crucial, as 60 decibels uninterrupted for two hours can be a great deal more damaging than four half-hour intervals distributed throughout the day.

3. Choose the Appropriate Headphones

The reason the majority of us have a hard time keeping our music player volume at less than 60 percent of its max is a consequence of background noise. As environmental noise increases, like in a busy gym, 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-fidelity music can be experienced at lower volumes.

Low-quality earbuds, on the contrary, have the double disadvantage of sitting closer to your eardrum and being incapable of controlling background noise. The quality of sound is lower as well, and combined with the distracting environmental sound, increasing the volume is the only method to compensate.

The bottom line: it’s truly worth the money to spend money on a pair of premium headphones, ideally ones that have noise-cancelling technology. That way, you can stick to the 60/60 rule without compromising the quality of your music and, more importantly, your hearing down the road.

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