If you suspect hearing loss only happens to the elderly, you will probably be surprised to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some measure 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 released a report warning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from harmful listening habits.
Those dangerous habits include participating in deafening sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of headphones.
But it’s the use of headphones that could very well be the number one threat.
Consider how frequently we all listen to music since it became mobile. We listen in the car, on the job, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while drifting off to sleep. We can integrate music into almost every aspect of our lives.
That quantity of exposure—if you’re not careful—can slowly and silently steal your hearing at an early age, leading to hearing aids later in life.
And given that no one’s prepared to abandon music, we have to determine other ways to protect our hearing. Luckily, there are simple and easy preventative measures we can all adopt.
Here are three important safety guidelines you can use 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, an effective 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 likely be above the 85-decibel ceiling.
In fact, at their loudest, MP3 players can pump out 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. Therefore, if when listening to music you have to raise your voice when speaking to someone, that’s a good signal that you should turn down the volume.
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 suggested that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its maximum 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 periodic rest breaks from the sound is also crucial, as 60 decibels without interruption for two hours can be far more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed throughout the day.
3. Pick the Appropriate Headphones
The reason most of us have a hard time keeping our music player volume at under 60 percent of its max is a consequence of background noise. As surrounding noise increases, like in a congested gym, we have to compensate by boosting the music volume.
The solution 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, 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 compromised as well, and coupled 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 quality headphones, ideally ones that have noise-cancelling capability. That way, you can adhere to the 60/60 rule without sacrificing the quality of your music and, more significantly, your hearing down the road.