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Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you suspect hearing loss only happens to older people, you will probably be shocked to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some extent of hearing loss in the United States. In addition, 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 notice of the World Health Organization, who in answer released a statement cautioning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from dangerous listening practices.

Those unsafe practices include participating in noisy sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of earphones.

But it’s the use of headphones that may be the number one threat.

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

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

And given that no one’s prepared to surrender music, we have to uncover other ways to protect our hearing. Luckily, there are simple preventative measures we can all adopt.

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

1. Limit Volume

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

Instead, a good rule of thumb is to keep your music player volume at no more than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Any higher and you’ll likely be over the 85-decibel ceiling.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 players can generate 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.

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

2. Limit the 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 rule: the 60/60 rule. We already suggested that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its max volume. The other component is making sure 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 crucial, as 60 decibels uninterrupted for two hours can be a lot more damaging than four half-hour intervals distributed throughout the day.

3. Pick the Right Headphones

The reason many of us have a hard time keeping our music player volume at less than 60 percent of its max is due to background noise. As environmental 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 lessened, sound volume can be limited, and high-quality music can be experienced at lower volumes.

Lower-quality earbuds, in contrast, have the double disadvantage of being closer to your eardrum and being incapable of decreasing background noise. The quality of sound is compromised as well, and combined with the distracting external 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 quality headphones, ideally ones that have noise-cancelling capability. 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.