According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly half of people ages 12–35 in middle- and high-income countries are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from their phones, MP3 players, and other personal audio devices. As a result, hearing damage in teens and young adults is on the rise. Noise-induced hearing damage is irreversible, and can lead to real quality of life issues including trouble understanding your loved ones and a constant, high-pitched ringing known as tinnitus.
So how do you listen to your favorite tunes without needing a hearing aid in a few decades? An "unsafe listening level" depends on how long you're listening. The WHO defines 85 decibels as the highest safe exposure level when you're listening for eight hours or less. That's plenty loud; roughly the volume of a microwave beep, an alarm clock, or a blender. But if you were to crank up an Apple iPod to its maximum volume—102 decibels—you could listen for a maximum of five minutes before you risk hearing loss. This example may sound extreme, but add in the background noise of a crowded train car or the hum of an airplane and you may need to crank the volume that high to even make out the words in a song. That's why hearing experts also recommend noise-isolating or, better yet, noise-canceling headphones in loud environments, since they make it easier to listen at a lower volume. Explore the issues of hearing loss with the videos below.