Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to seniors, you will probably be shocked to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some level 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 great surprise then that this has captured the interest of the World Health Organization, who as a result produced 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 habits include participating in deafening sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of earphones.

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

Reflect on how often 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 walk and even while going to sleep. We can combine music into virtually any aspect of our lives.

That amount of exposure—if you’re not careful—can slowly and quietly steal your hearing at a very early age, resulting in hearing aids in the future.

And considering that no one’s prepared to forfeit music, we have to determine other ways to protect our hearing. Thankfully, there are simple and easy precautions we can all adopt.

Here are three essential safety guidelines you can make use of to preserve your hearing without compromising your music.

1. Limit the Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can result in permanent hearing loss, but you don’t need to invest in a sound meter to measure the decibel output of your music.

Instead, an effective 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 over the 85-decibel ceiling.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 music 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. Therefore, if when listening to music you have to raise your voice when conversing to someone, that’s a good indication that you should turn the volume down.

2. Limit the 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 component is making sure 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 a lot more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed 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 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 use of noise-cancelling headphones. If background noise is lessened, sound volume can be limited, and high-quality music can be appreciated 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 lower 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 invest in a pair of top quality headphones, preferably ones that have noise-cancelling capabilities. That way, you can adhere to the 60/60 rule without compromising the quality of your music and, more significantly, your hearing later in life.