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Regularly listen to an iPod or other portable music player? You may be at risk for serious hearing damage. Recent reports have shown that premature hearing loss is growing among young Americans, and one culprit is the earbud headphones normally packaged with portable music players like iPods.

Audiologists have warned of the dangers of headphone usage since portable cassette players became popular in the 1980s, but earbuds are particularly egregious offenders since they sit inside your ear. Most portable music players can emit volumes of 120 decibels or higher. That’s as loud as a rock concert, but instead of diminishing across a venue, it’s focused directly inside your ear.

There are alternatives to earbuds that offer better sound quality and more protection. Noise-cancelling headphones are standard headphones that are able to block out most outside noise, allowing you to turn your volume down. Canal headphones extend into the ear canal, but unlike earbuds they block outside noise and allow for a greater range of sound. If you can’t trust yourself to turn it down, Apple offers volume limiting software for its iPods.

Barring that, use what one audiologist has called the 60 percent/60 minute rule. Try not to use these devices for more than an hour a day, and keep it under 60 percent of maximum volume. That puts you below 85 decibels, protecting you from permanent hearing damage. You’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to stick something else in your ear—a hearing aid—before you’re collecting Social Security.



Hey Cody,

I use a set on on-ear noise-cancelling Bose headphones myself. They work great and are perfect for airline flights.

Back in the dorms or at the rec center I'd definitely hear some folks cranking their ear buds. I knew that couldn't have been good in the long run.

It's true, we don't want to have hearing loss before our time. Whaa?! Social Security what now?!

by Peter on August 15, 2008

I just got a new iPod Touch, and sure enough, it came with earbuds. In fact I'm listening to it right now, but I have my volume on low because of your blog.

by Jens on August 18, 2008
Noise Isolating Earbuds

If you have a good sound isolation from external noise, it will allow you to listen to your favorite music at a volume that won't harm your hearing in the long run. The leading brands of noise isolating earphones can block up to 37 dB of ambient noise, which is very good and a lot more than what noise cancelling headphones can achieve, are smaller and they don't insert additional sounds to your music.

by Noise Isolating Earbuds on December 30, 2010

Feel the music, not the headphones. Plush ear cushions covered with ultra-soft breathable materials keep you cool, even during marathon listening sessions.

by monster on March 6, 2011

 The larger headphones can be better, but it's still going to damage your hearing if you play it too loud. Marathon listening should be done at a lower level, but it's probably ok to crank the volume for your favorite song. :)

by jenniebartlemay on March 7, 2011
Christian Scott

Hi Cody As you said, it's a well known fact that earphones "help" you gradually lose your hearing, and we've known that since the 80s. But we can't just throw them away, can we.. Me, I can't jog around the park if I don't listen to radio or to some music or something. Headphones are an integral part of our lives, and if we want to protect our ears from harm, we'll just need to come up with better ones. Those canal headphones seem like a good start. _______________ Christian Scott 

by Christian Scott on March 11, 2011

Or, we could all convert to backpack speakers. Although, there would be equal risk of passersby breaking into spontaneous dance parties or leveling spontaneous beat downs. 

by codywetmore on March 11, 2011

I wonder if it is healthier to go back to the old school days and carry a boombox on your shoulders? Cody, your idea of backpack speakers is great! I would love the spontaneous dance parties. I had a friend try to convert his 5.1 speakers into backpack speakers once. It didn't work, but I thought it was a great attempt! LOL!

by Minnie on August 1, 2011

 Backpack speakers are a great idea, though I dont know that a boombox on the shoulder would be any better than earbuds. It may even be worse, as immediate neighbors would be subjected to whatever you happened to be playing. Reminds me of this (nerd alert). 

by jenniebartlemay on August 5, 2011

What? I can't hear you. :(

by tom on March 26, 2012

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