Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to seniors, you will probably be shocked to learn that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some measure 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 real surprise then that this has captured 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 practices.

Those unsafe practices include attending noisy sporting events and concerts without hearing protection, along with the unsafe use of earphones.

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

Reflect on how frequently we all listen to music since it became mobile. We listen in the car, at work, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a walk and even while drifting off to sleep. We can integrate music into nearly every aspect of our lives.

That level of exposure—if you’re not cautious—can gradually 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 forfeit music, we have to determine other ways to safeguard our hearing. Thankfully, there are simple preventative measures we can all take.

Here are three essential safety tips you can use to protect your hearing without compromising 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, an effective rule of thumb is to keep your music player volume at no more 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 music players can pump out 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. Therefore, if when listening to music you have to raise your voice when talking to someone, that’s a good sign 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 subject your ears to loud sounds, the more substantial the damage can be.

Which brings us to the next general rule: 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 important, as 60 decibels uninterrupted for two hours can be significantly more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed throughout the day.

3. Choose the Appropriate Headphones

The reason most of us have difficulty keeping our music player volume at under 60 percent of its maximum is due to background noise. As surrounding noise increases, like in a congested fitness center, we have to compensate by increasing the music volume.

The remedy to this is the use 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 more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of controlling background noise. The quality of sound is compromised as well, and coupled 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 high 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.