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Headphones Today, Hearing Aids Tomorrow?

September 07, 2016

Earbuds are everywhere: on the street, at school and at work. Compact and convenient, they deliver sound straight to your ear canals with a direct line to eardrums and delicate inner-ear structures. That has a downside, though. Audiologists warn that unsafe earbud use can potentially lead to irreversible, noise-induced hearing loss.

Nearly half of teens and young adults ages 12 to 25 in middle- and high-income countries are exposed to unsafe sound levels via personal audio devices, according to the World Health Organization. Below, experts give tips for protecting your precious hearing.

Be volume-savvy. While recommendations vary, volume on a device like a music player or smartphone shouldn't be higher than 60 to 80 percent of the maximum setting. The WHO suggests staying at or below 60 percent of the maximum. Most earbuds are made so they don't amplify sounds beyond a certain level, says audiologist Jason Wigand, an assistant professor and clinical director of the cochlear implant program at the University of South Carolina. However, he adds, "the amount of exposure that could be an insult to me is not going to be the same for you or from one person to another."

It's not just how loud, but how long. Again, guidelines vary, but about one to two hours of daily listening at most is considered a good rule of thumb for kids.

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