Center For Better Hearing - Glens Falls, NY

Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to seniors, you might be surprised to discover 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 great surprise then that this has caught the interest of the World Health Organization, who as a result issued a report notifying us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from unsafe listening practices.

Those unsafe practices include attending loud sporting events and concerts without hearing protection, along with the unsafe use of earphones.

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

Bear in mind 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 walk and even while drifting off to sleep. We can integrate music into virtually any aspect of our lives.

That quantity of exposure—if you’re not careful—can slowly and quietly steal your hearing at a very early age, leading to hearing aids down the road.

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

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

1. Limit Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can lead to 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 general guideline is to keep your music player volume at no more than 60 percent of the max volume. Any higher and you’ll likely be over the 85-decibel threshold.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 players can pump out more than 105 decibels. And since 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. Therefore, if when listening to music you have to raise your voice when speaking to someone, that’s a good indicator that you should turn the volume down.

2. Limit 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 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 crucial, as 60 decibels without interruption for two hours can be significantly more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed throughout the day.

3. Choose the Right Headphones

The reason most of us have a hard time keeping our music player volume at under 60 percent of its maximum is due to background noise. As environmental noise increases, like in a busy 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 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 sitting more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of decreasing background noise. The quality of sound is diminished as well, and coupled with the distracting environmental sound, increasing the volume is the only way to compensate.

The bottom line: it’s well worth the money to spend money on a pair of top quality headphones, preferably ones that have noise-cancelling functionality. 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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