Is Your Hearing at Risk From Unsafe Listening Practices?

Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you suspect hearing loss only happens to seniors, you will probably be surprised to learn that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some level of hearing loss in the United States. Moreover, 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 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 hearing protection, along with the unsafe use of headphones.

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 portable. We listen in the car, at work, 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 nearly any aspect of our lives.

That quantity of exposure—if you’re not cautious—can slowly and silently steal your hearing at a young age, resulting in hearing aids down the road.

And given that no one’s prepared to eliminate music, we have to determine other ways to protect our hearing. Thankfully, there are simple preventative measures we can all take.

Here are three essential safety tips you can use to preserve 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 buy yourself a sound meter to measure the decibel output of your music.

Instead, a useful general guideline is to keep your music player volume at no more than 60 percent of the maximum volume. Any higher and you’ll most likely be over the 85-decibel ceiling.

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 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.

Another 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 sign that you should turn down the volume.

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 general guideline: the 60/60 rule. We already recommended that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its max volume. The other component is ensuring 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 important, as 60 decibels without interruption for two hours can be much more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed throughout the day.

3. Select the Right Headphones

The reason most of us have a hard time keeping our music player volume at under 60 percent of its maximum is due to background noise. As environmental 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 lessened, sound volume can be reduced, and high-fidelity music can be appreciated at lower volumes.

Low-quality earbuds, on the other hand, have the double disadvantage of sitting closer to your eardrum and being incapable of reducing 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 invest in a pair of high quality 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 importantly, your hearing down the road.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.