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Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe hearing loss only happens to the elderly, you will probably be shocked to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some level of hearing loss in the United States. Moreover, 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 interest of the World Health Organization, who as a result issued a statement notifying us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from unsafe listening habits.

Those unsafe practices include going to deafening sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of headphones.

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

Bear in mind how often we all listen to music since it became mobile. We listen in the car, on the job, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a walk and even while going to sleep. We can integrate music into nearly any aspect of our lives.

That amount of exposure—if you’re not careful—can gradually and quietly steal your hearing at an early age, leading to hearing aids in the future.

And since no one’s prepared to surrender music, we have to find other ways to protect our hearing. Fortunately, there are simple safeguards we can all take.

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

1. Limit Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can result in 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 max volume. Any higher and you’ll likely be above the 85-decibel ceiling.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 music 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.

An additional tip: normal conversation registers at about 60 decibels. So, if while listening to music you have to raise your voice when talking 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 more substantial the injury can be.

Which brings us to the next general guideline: the 60/60 rule. We previously recommended that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its maximum volume. The other aspect is ensuring 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 without interruption for two hours can be much more damaging than four half-hour intervals distributed throughout the day.

3. Choose the Right Headphones

The reason most of us have difficulty keeping our music player volume at under 60 percent of its maximum is due to background noise. As environmental noise increases, like in a congested fitness center, we have to compensate by increasing the music volume.

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

Lower-quality earbuds, on the other hand, have the double disadvantage of sitting more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of decreasing background noise. The quality of sound is diminished as well, and coupled with the distracting environmental sound, increasing the volume is the only way 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 capability. That way, you can adhere to the 60/60 rule without sacrificing the quality of your music and, more significantly, your hearing later in life.