If you believe hearing loss only happens to older people, you may be surprised to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some extent of hearing loss in the United States. In addition, the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.
It should come as no surprise then that this has caught the notice of the World Health Organization, who in response 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 unsafe practices include attending noisy sporting events and concerts without hearing protection, along with the unsafe use of earphones.
But it’s the use of headphones that may be the number one threat.
Reflect on how frequently we all listen to music since it became portable. We listen in the car, on the job, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a walk and even while drifting off to sleep. We can combine music into almost every aspect of our lives.
That amount of exposure—if you’re not careful—can gradually and silently steal your hearing at an early age, leading to hearing aids in the future.
And considering that no one’s prepared to eliminate music, we have to uncover other ways to safeguard our hearing. Luckily, there are simple and easy measures we can all take.
The following are three important safety tips you can make use of 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 level of your music.
Instead, a good rule of thumb is to keep your music player volume at no higher 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 music players can generate 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.
An additional tip: normal conversation registers at about 60 decibels. So, if when listening to music you have to raise your voice when speaking to someone, that’s a good indicator that you should turn down the volume.
2. Limit Listening Time
Hearing injury is not only a function of volume; it’s also a function of time. The longer you expose your ears to loud sounds, the greater the injury can be.
Which brings us to the next general rule: 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 making sure 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 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 Right Headphones
The reason many of us have difficulty keeping our music player volume at less than 60 percent of its maximum is a consequence of background noise. As surrounding noise increases, like in a congested 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-fidelity music can be appreciated at lower volumes.
Lower-quality earbuds, in contrast, have the twin 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 environmental sound, increasing the volume is the only method to compensate.
The bottom line: it’s truly worth the money to invest in a pair of top quality headphones, ideally ones that have noise-cancelling technology. That way, you can adhere to the 60/60 rule without sacrificing the quality of your music and, more importantly, your hearing down the road.