Headphone Safety 101: Tips to Protect Your Hearing

Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you think hearing loss only happens to the elderly, you may be surprised to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teenagers has some measure of hearing loss in the US. Moreover, the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

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 report notifying us that 1.1 billion teens and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss from dangerous listening habits.

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 greatest threat.

Reflect on how often 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 going to sleep. We can incorporate music into almost any aspect of our lives.

That level of exposure—if you’re not careful—can slowly and silently steal your hearing at an early age, resulting in hearing aids down the road.

And since no one’s prepared to eliminate music, we have to find other ways to safeguard our hearing. Thankfully, there are simple safeguards 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 trigger permanent hearing loss, but you don’t need to invest in a sound meter to measure the decibel level of your music.

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

In fact, at their loudest, MP3 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 communicating to someone, that’s a good sign that you should turn the volume down.

2. Limit 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 more substantial the damage can be.

Which brings us to the next rule of thumb: the 60/60 rule. We already recommended that you keep your MP3 player volume at 60 percent of its maximum volume. The other aspect is making sure 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 significantly more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed throughout the day.

3. Select the Appropriate 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 surrounding noise increases, like in a busy fitness center, we have to compensate by increasing the music volume.

The solution to this is the use of noise-cancelling headphones. If background noise is mitigated, sound volume can be reduced, and high-fidelity music can be appreciated at lower volumes.

Low-quality earbuds, on the other hand, have the twin disadvantage of being more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of limiting background noise. The quality of sound is lower as well, and combined with the distracting external sound, increasing the volume is the only method to compensate.

The bottom line: it’s well worth the money to invest in a pair of premium 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.

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.