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Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you suspect hearing loss only happens to the elderly, you will probably be shocked to learn that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some level of hearing loss in the United States. Furthermore, the rate of hearing loss in teenagers is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

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

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

But it’s the use of headphones that may be the most significant threat.

Reflect on how often we all listen to music since it became transportable. We listen in the car, on the job, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a walk and even while going to sleep. We can integrate music into virtually every aspect of our lives.

That quantity of exposure—if you’re not cautious—can slowly and silently steal your hearing at a very early age, leading to hearing aids in the future.

And given that no one’s prepared to forfeit music, we have to find other ways to safeguard our hearing. Thankfully, there are simple and easy safeguards we can all take.

Here are three vital safety tips you can use to protect your hearing without compromising your music.

1. Limit 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 louder than 60 percent of the maximum 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 given that the decibel scale, like the Richter scale, is logarithmic, 105 decibels is about 100 times as intense as 85.

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

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 more substantial the injury can be.

Which brings us to the next rule of thumb: the 60/60 rule. We previously 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 bear 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 distributed throughout the day.

3. Pick the Appropriate Headphones

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

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

Lower-quality earbuds, alternatively, have the dual disadvantage of sitting more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of limiting background noise. The quality of sound is compromised 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 capabilities. That way, you can adhere to the 60/60 rule without compromising the quality of your music and, more significantly, your hearing down the road.