If you think hearing loss only happens to the elderly, you might be shocked to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some degree of hearing loss in the United States. Additionally, the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 90s.
It should come as no surprise then that this has captured the notice of the World Health Organization, who in answer released a statement warning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from unsafe listening practices.
Those dangerous practices include going to loud sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of earphones.
But it’s the use of headphones that may be the biggest threat.
Consider how frequently we all listen to music since it became transportable. We listen in the car, at work, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while falling asleep. We can combine music into virtually every aspect of our lives.
That amount of exposure—if you’re not careful—can slowly and quietly steal your hearing at an early age, leading to hearing aids later in life.
And since no one’s prepared to eliminate music, we have to determine other ways to safeguard our hearing. Fortunately, there are simple and easy safeguards we can all take.
Here are three essential safety guidelines you can use to preserve your hearing without sacrificing your music.
1. Limit Volume
Any sound louder than 85 decibels can result in permanent hearing loss, but you don’t need to buy yourself a sound meter to measure the decibel level of your music.
Instead, a useful general guideline is to keep your music player volume at no louder than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Any higher and you’ll likely be over 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 while listening to music you have to raise your voice when talking to someone, that’s a good indication 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 expose your ears to loud sounds, the more substantial the damage 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 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 crucial, as 60 decibels uninterrupted for two hours can be far more damaging than four half-hour intervals distributed throughout the day.
3. Choose the Right Headphones
The reason most of us have difficulty keeping our MP3 player volume at less than 60 percent of its max is due to background noise. As surrounding noise increases, like in a busy gym, we have to compensate by boosting the music volume.
The remedy to this is the usage of noise-cancelling headphones. If background noise is lessened, sound volume can be limited, and high-fidelity music can be enjoyed at lower volumes.
Lower-quality earbuds, in contrast, have the twin disadvantage of sitting more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of limiting background noise. The quality of sound is diminished as well, and combined with the distracting external 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, ideally ones that have noise-cancelling technology. 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.