Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you suspect hearing loss only happens to the elderly, you may be shocked to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some extent of hearing loss in the US. Furthermore, the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

It should come as no real surprise then that this has caught the interest of the World Health Organization, who as a result issued a report warning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from unsafe listening practices.

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

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

Reflect on how frequently 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 incorporate music into nearly any aspect of our lives.

That level of exposure—if you’re not careful—can gradually and silently steal your hearing at a young age, leading to hearing aids down the road.

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

Here are three vital safety tips you can use to preserve your hearing without sacrificing your music.

1. Limit the Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can trigger 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 rule of thumb is to keep your music player volume at no higher than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Any higher and you’ll most likely be over the 85-decibel threshold.

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

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

2. Limit Listening 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 greater the injury can be.

Which brings us to the next general guideline: 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 that 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 without interruption for two hours can be a lot more damaging than four half-hour intervals spread throughout the day.

3. Select the Right Headphones

The reason the majority of us have difficulty keeping our MP3 player volume at less than 60 percent of its maximum is due to background noise. As surrounding noise increases, like in a busy gym, we have to compensate by boosting the music volume.

The solution to this is the usage of noise-cancelling headphones. If background noise is mitigated, sound volume can be limited, and high-fidelity music can be appreciated at lower volumes.

Lower-quality earbuds, in contrast, have the double disadvantage of sitting closer to your eardrum and being incapable of controlling background noise. The quality of sound is compromised as well, and coupled with the distracting environmental sound, increasing the volume is the only method to compensate.

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

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