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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 shocked to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some amount of hearing loss in the United States. Furthermore, the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 90s.

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

Those dangerous habits include attending deafening sporting events and concerts without hearing protection, along with the unsafe use of headphones.

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

Consider how often 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 drifting off to sleep. We can integrate music into virtually every aspect of our lives.

That amount of exposure—if you’re not careful—can slowly and silently steal your hearing at a very early age, leading to hearing aids later in life.

And given that no one’s prepared to abandon music, we have to determine other ways to safeguard our hearing. Thankfully, there are simple and easy measures we can all adopt.

Here are three important safety guidelines you can make use of to protect 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 invest in a sound meter to measure the decibel output of your music.

Instead, a useful 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 most likely be above the 85-decibel threshold.

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.

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

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 damage can be.

Which brings us to the next general guideline: the 60/60 rule. We already 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 bear in mind that lower volumes can handle longer listening times.

Taking periodic rest breaks from the sound is also important, as 60 decibels without interruption for two hours can be much more damaging than four half-hour intervals distributed throughout the day.

3. Select the Appropriate Headphones

The reason most of us have a hard time keeping our music 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 boosting the music volume.

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

Lower-quality earbuds, on the other hand, have the twin disadvantage of being more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of reducing background noise. The quality of sound is lower 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 invest in a pair of premium headphones, preferably 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 down the road.