Teenage boy listening to music through headphones

If you believe that hearing loss only happens to older people, you will probably be shocked to discover that today 1 out of every 5 teens has some degree 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 1990s.

It should come as no surprise then that this has captured the interest of the World Health Organization, who in response 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 dangerous habits include attending deafening sporting events and concerts without earplugs, along with the unsafe use of headphones.

But it’s the use of headphones that could very well be the number one threat.

Bear in mind 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 going to sleep. We can integrate music into nearly every aspect of our lives.

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

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

Here are three essential safety guidelines you can use 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 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 max volume. Any higher and you’ll likely be over the 85-decibel limit.

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.

An additional tip: normal conversation registers at about 60 decibels. So, if while listening to music you have to raise your voice when communicating to someone, that’s a good indicator that you should turn the volume down.

2. Limit Listening 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 extensive the injury can be.

Which brings us to the next rule of thumb: the 60/60 rule. We previously 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 bear in mind that lower volumes can handle longer listening times.

Taking regular rest breaks from the sound is also crucial, as 60 decibels uninterrupted for two hours can be a great deal more damaging than four half-hour intervals dispersed throughout the day.

3. Select the Right Headphones

The reason many of us have difficulty keeping our music player volume at less than 60 percent of its maximum is a consequence of background noise. As environmental 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 mitigated, sound volume can be limited, and high-fidelity music can be appreciated at lower volumes.

Lower-quality earbuds, in contrast, have the twin disadvantage of sitting more closely to your eardrum and being incapable of reducing background noise. The quality of sound is diminished as well, and coupled with the distracting environmental 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 quality headphones, ideally 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.