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Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe hearing loss only happens to seniors, you may 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 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 in answer released a report cautioning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from unsafe listening practices.

Those unsafe practices include going to noisy 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 biggest threat.

Think about how often we all listen to music since it became mobile. We listen in the car, in the workplace, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while falling asleep. We can incorporate music into nearly every aspect of our lives.

That level of exposure—if you’re not careful—can gradually and quietly steal your hearing at an early age, resulting in hearing aids later in life.

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

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

1. Limit Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can produce permanent hearing loss, but you don’t need to invest in a sound meter to measure the decibel level of your music.

Instead, a good rule of thumb is to keep your music player volume at no more than 60 percent of the max volume. Any higher and you’ll most likely be above the 85-decibel limit.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 music 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 indicator that you should turn down the volume.

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 damage 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 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 routine rest breaks from the sound is also important, as 60 decibels without interruption for two hours can be far more damaging than four half-hour intervals spread throughout the day.

3. Pick the Appropriate Headphones

The reason many of us have a hard time keeping our MP3 player volume at under 60 percent of its max is due to background noise. As environmental noise increases, like in a congested 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 experienced at lower volumes.

Low-quality earbuds, alternatively, have the double disadvantage of sitting closer to your eardrum and being incapable of controlling 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 high quality headphones, preferably ones that have noise-cancelling functionality. That way, you can stick to the 60/60 rule without sacrificing the quality of your music and, more significantly, your hearing down the road.

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