Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to older people, you will probably be surprised to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some degree of hearing loss in the US. 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 notice of the World Health Organization, who as a result released a report cautioning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from dangerous listening practices.

Those dangerous practices include attending loud sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of headphones.

But it’s the use of earphones that may be the greatest threat.

Reflect on how often we all listen to music since it became portable. We listen in the car, on the job, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while falling asleep. We can integrate music into nearly any aspect of our lives.

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

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

Here are three essential safety guidelines you can make use of to preserve your hearing without compromising your music.

1. Limit the Volume

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

Instead, an effective general guideline is to keep your music player volume at no more than 60 percent of the max 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 given that 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. Therefore, if when listening to music you have to raise your voice when conversing to someone, that’s a good signal that you should turn the volume down.

2. Limit Time

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

Which brings us to the next general guideline: the 60/60 rule. We already 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 periodic rest breaks from the sound is also crucial, as 60 decibels uninterrupted for two hours can be much more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed throughout the day.

3. Select the Right Headphones

The reason the majority of us have difficulty keeping our MP3 player volume at under 60 percent of its max is due to background noise. As environmental noise increases, like in a busy fitness center, we have to compensate by boosting the music volume.

The remedy to this is the use of noise-cancelling headphones. If background noise is lessened, sound volume can be reduced, and high-fidelity music can be appreciated at lower volumes.

Lower-quality earbuds, in contrast, have the twin disadvantage of sitting closer to your eardrum and being incapable of repressing background noise. The quality of sound is lower as well, and combined with the distracting environmental sound, increasing the volume is the only way to compensate.

The bottom line: it’s well worth the money to spend money on a pair of quality headphones, preferably ones that have noise-cancelling capabilities. That way, you can adhere to the 60/60 rule without compromising the quality of your music and, more significantly, your hearing down the road.

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