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Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to the elderly, you will probably be shocked to learn that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some degree of hearing loss in the US. Additionally, the rate of hearing loss in teenagers is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 90s.

It should come as no great 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 dangerous habits include going to deafening sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of headphones.

But it’s the use of earphones that could very well be the biggest threat.

Consider how frequently we all listen to music since it became portable. We listen in the car, at work, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while going to sleep. We can incorporate music into nearly any aspect of our lives.

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

And since no one’s prepared to surrender music, we have to determine other ways to safeguard our hearing. Fortunately, there are simple precautions we can all adopt.

Here are three vital safety guidelines you can use to preserve your hearing without compromising your music.

1. Limit Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can bring about 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 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 above 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 approximately 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 talking 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 extensive the injury can be.

Which brings us to the next rule of thumb: the 60/60 rule. We previously suggested that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its max volume. The other component 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 regular rest breaks from the sound is also important, as 60 decibels uninterrupted for two hours can be a great deal more damaging than four half-hour intervals distributed throughout the day.

3. Select the Appropriate Headphones

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

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

Lower-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 compromised as well, and combined with the distracting external sound, increasing the volume is the only method to compensate.

The bottom line: it’s truly worth the money to spend money on a pair of high quality headphones, preferably ones that have noise-cancelling capabilities. That way, you can stick to the 60/60 rule without compromising the quality of your music and, more importantly, your hearing later in life.