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Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to the elderly, you might be surprised to learn that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some level of hearing loss in the US. 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 surprise then that this has caught the notice of the World Health Organization, who in response issued a report warning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from dangerous listening habits.

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

But it’s the use of headphones that could very well be the number one threat.

Consider how frequently we all listen to music since it became transportable. We listen in the car, in the workplace, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while falling asleep. We can incorporate music into almost any aspect of our lives.

That level of exposure—if you’re not careful—can gradually and quietly steal your hearing at a very early age, resulting in hearing aids later in life.

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

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

1. Limit the Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can bring on 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 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 while listening to music you have to raise your voice when conversing to someone, that’s a good indication that you should turn down the volume.

2. Limit the Time

Hearing damage 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 rule: 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 important, as 60 decibels uninterrupted for two hours can be far more damaging than four half-hour intervals spread throughout the day.

3. Choose the Appropriate Headphones

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

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

Low-quality earbuds, in contrast, have the twin disadvantage of sitting more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of reducing background noise. The quality of sound is compromised as well, and coupled 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, 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 later in life.

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