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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.

--Cody