How to Prevent Hearing Loss From Headphone Use

Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe hearing loss only happens to the elderly, you might be shocked to learn 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 teenagers is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

It should come as no great surprise then that this has caught the interest of the World Health Organization, who in answer issued a statement cautioning us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from harmful listening habits.

Those unsafe habits include going to noisy sporting events and concerts without hearing protection, along with the unsafe use of headphones.

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

Bear in mind how frequently we all listen to music since it became transportable. We listen in the car, in the workplace, at the gym, and at home. We listen while out for a stroll and even while drifting off to sleep. We can combine music into virtually any aspect of our lives.

That level of exposure—if you’re not cautious—can slowly and quietly steal your hearing at an early age, leading to hearing aids down the road.

And considering that no one’s prepared to abandon music, we have to find other ways to protect our hearing. Thankfully, there are simple and easy measures we can all take.

The following are three vital safety guidelines you can use to protect your hearing without compromising your music.

1. Limit the Volume

Any sound louder than 85 decibels can bring on permanent hearing loss, but you don’t need to buy yourself 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 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 given that 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. Therefore, if while listening to music you have to raise your voice when speaking to someone, that’s a good sign that you should turn down the volume.

2. Limit the Time

Hearing damage 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 injury can be.

Which brings us to the next general rule: the 60/60 rule. We previously suggested that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its maximum volume. The other aspect 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 uninterrupted for two hours can be much more damaging than four half-hour intervals spread throughout the day.

3. Pick the Right Headphones

The reason many of us have difficulty keeping our MP3 player volume at under 60 percent of its maximum is a consequence of background noise. As environmental noise increases, like in a busy gym, we have to compensate by boosting the music volume.

The remedy to this is the usage of noise-cancelling headphones. If background noise is mitigated, sound volume can be limited, and high-quality music can be enjoyed at lower volumes.

Lower-quality earbuds, on the contrary, have the dual disadvantage of sitting closer to your eardrum and being incapable of limiting background noise. The quality of sound is diminished 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, ideally ones that have noise-cancelling technology. That way, you can stick to the 60/60 rule without compromising the quality of your music and, more significantly, your hearing down the road.