Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you think hearing loss only happens to seniors, you will probably be surprised to discover 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 90s.

It should come as no real surprise then that this has caught the interest of the World Health Organization, who as a result produced 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 going to loud 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.

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 integrate music into virtually any aspect of our lives.

That amount 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 surrender music, we have to find other ways to protect our hearing. Thankfully, there are simple safeguards we can all take.

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

1. Limit the Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can produce 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 rule of thumb is to keep your music player volume at no higher than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Any higher and you’ll probably be above the 85-decibel threshold.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 players can pump out 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 talking to someone, that’s a good indication 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 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 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 without interruption for two hours can be a lot 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 music player volume at under 60 percent of its maximum 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 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 enjoyed at lower volumes.

Lower-quality earbuds, alternatively, have the double disadvantage of being closer to your eardrum and being incapable of repressing background noise. The quality of sound is lower 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 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 significantly, your hearing down the road.