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How to Keep Your Ears Safe When Using Headphones and Earbuds

They can be. But simple steps can keep your ears safe.

Published: February 2014

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These Beats by Dre Executive headphones are our top-rated noise-canceling headphones.

You probably know that exposure to loud noise—including lawn mowers and rock concerts—can damage your hearing. But the latest research reveals a new hazard: personal listening devices (iPods and other MP3 players) that plant music directly into our ears—especially when we use them with earbuds that go inside the ear canal. How big is the risk? It depends on how loud the sound and how long you listen. But consider this: One in five teenagers are estimated to now have some form of hearing loss, nearly one-third more than teens in the 1980s and 1990s, which experts have attributed to the increased use of headphones and earbuds. 

The easiest way to reduce your risk of hearing loss from personal listening devices is to follow what hearing experts call the 60/60 rule: listen at no more than 60 percent of the maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day. Instead of earbuds, using over-the-ear headphones, especially the noise-canceling kind, may also prevent damage. 

And when you have to go somewhere noisy, try foam earplugs: They’re a low-tech, inexpensive way to protect your ears. You can find them at any drugstore for about $3.50 for a set of 10. Perhaps in a nod to baby boomers concerned about their hearing, earplugs are even sold at many concerts, right alongside the T-shirts. 

Concerned you might already have lost some hearing? Take our hearing loss quiz. If you're in the market for a hearing aid, see our hearing aids buying guide.

—Jamie Kopf

Editor's Note:

This article appeared in the March 2014 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.



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