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Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to older people, you will probably be surprised to learn that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some degree of hearing loss in the US. Additionally, 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 as a result produced a report cautioning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from dangerous listening habits.

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

But it’s the use of headphones that could very well be the most significant threat.

Reflect on how frequently we all listen to music since it became portable. We listen in the car, in the workplace, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a walk and even while drifting off to sleep. We can integrate music into nearly any aspect of our lives.

That level of exposure—if you’re not cautious—can slowly and quietly steal your hearing at an early age, resulting in hearing aids down the road.

And given that no one’s prepared to eliminate music, we have to find other ways to protect our hearing. Luckily, there are simple and easy preventative measures we can all take.

The following are three important safety tips you can use to protect 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, an effective rule of thumb is to keep your music player volume at no louder than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Any higher and you’ll most likely be over the 85-decibel ceiling.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 players can generate 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 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 subject your ears to loud sounds, the more extensive the injury can be.

Which brings us to the next general rule: the 60/60 rule. We already recommended that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its max volume. The other component is making sure 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 periodic rest breaks from the sound is also crucial, as 60 decibels without interruption for two hours can be far more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed throughout the day.

3. Choose the Appropriate Headphones

The reason many of us have difficulty keeping our MP3 player volume at under 60 percent of its max is due to background noise. As surrounding noise increases, like in a busy gym, we have to compensate by increasing the music volume.

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

Lower-quality earbuds, in contrast, have the double disadvantage of being more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of limiting background noise. The quality of sound is compromised 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 premium headphones, ideally ones that have noise-cancelling technology. That way, you can adhere to the 60/60 rule without compromising the quality of your music and, more importantly, your hearing later in life.

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