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Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you think hearing loss only happens to seniors, you will probably be shocked to learn that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some level of hearing loss in the US. Moreover, 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 captured the attention of the World Health Organization, who in response produced a report warning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from dangerous listening practices.

Those unsafe practices include going to loud 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.

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 walk and even while falling asleep. We can integrate music into almost every aspect of our lives.

That level of exposure—if you’re not cautious—can gradually and quietly steal your hearing at an early age, leading to hearing aids later in life.

And since no one’s prepared to forfeit music, we have to find other ways to protect our hearing. Luckily, there are simple and easy measures we can all adopt.

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

1. Limit Volume

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

Instead, a useful 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 limit.

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 approximately 100 times as intense as 85.

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

2. Limit Listening 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 greater the injury 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 max volume. The other aspect is ensuring 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 periodic rest breaks from the sound is also crucial, as 60 decibels without interruption for two hours can be significantly more damaging than four half-hour intervals spread throughout the day.

3. Pick the Appropriate Headphones

The reason the majority of us have a hard time keeping our MP3 player volume at less than 60 percent of its max is a consequence of background noise. As surrounding noise increases, like in a congested gym, we have to compensate by increasing the music volume.

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

Low-quality earbuds, alternatively, have the dual disadvantage of being more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of reducing background noise. The quality of sound is lower as well, and combined with the distracting external sound, increasing the volume is the only way to compensate.

The bottom line: it’s well worth the money to invest in a pair of high quality headphones, ideally ones that have noise-cancelling technology. That way, you can adhere to the 60/60 rule without sacrificing the quality of your music and, more importantly, your hearing later in life.

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