Headphone Safety 101: Tips to Protect Your Hearing

Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to seniors, you may be shocked to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some level of hearing loss in the US. Furthermore, the rate of hearing loss in teenagers is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 90s.

It should come as no surprise then that this has captured the attention of the World Health Organization, who as a result issued a statement notifying us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from dangerous listening practices.

Those unsafe practices include participating in deafening sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of earphones.

But it’s the use of headphones that could very well be the most significant threat.

Think about how often we all listen to music since it became transportable. We listen in the car, on the job, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while going to sleep. We can integrate music into nearly any aspect of our lives.

That quantity of exposure—if you’re not cautious—can slowly and silently steal your hearing at a very early age, resulting in hearing aids later in life.

And considering that no one’s prepared to abandon music, we have to determine other ways to safeguard our hearing. Luckily, there are simple safeguards we can all take.

The following are three essential safety tips you can make use of to preserve your hearing without sacrificing your music.

1. Limit Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can bring on 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 louder than 60 percent of the max volume. Any higher and you’ll most likely be above the 85-decibel ceiling.

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 approximately 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 communicating to someone, that’s a good signal that you should turn the volume down.

2. Limit Listening Time

Hearing injury 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 already suggested that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its max volume. The other aspect is making sure that 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 routine 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 distributed throughout the day.

3. Choose the Right Headphones

The reason the majority of us have difficulty keeping our MP3 player volume at under 60 percent of its max is a consequence of background noise. As surrounding noise increases, like in a busy fitness center, 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 reduced, and high-quality music can be enjoyed at lower volumes.

Low-quality earbuds, on the other hand, have the twin disadvantage of sitting closer to your eardrum and being incapable of limiting 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 premium headphones, preferably ones that have noise-cancelling capabilities. 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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