Blaring your iPod doesn’t just disturb the peace–it kills your ears, too. It only takes 30 minutes of listening to your iPod at a volume of 9 or 10 to increase your risk of hearing loss, experts say.
“Our ears didn’t evolve to be able to tolerate massively loud sounds,” says Brian Fligor, Sc.D., professor of otology and laryngology at Harvard University Medical School. “In my review of the scientific literature, as many as 18 percent of people aged 20 to 40 years in the U.S. have some degree of noise-induced hearing loss. And more men in this age range have noise-induced hearing loss than women,” says Fligor.
So why are your ears aging before you even sprout a wrinkle? Hearing loss is cumulative, so the louder and longer you listen, the faster you’ll hurt your hearing. The more intense a sound, the less time it takes to do damage. For example, listening to a circular saw for 30 minutes will do as much damage as listening to a lawn mower for two hours.
If you push north of 80 decibels–about the volume of a hair dryer–you can start to induce damage to the cells inside your ears. (And that’s a bad thing. How are you going to Decode Her Sex Sounds if her moans are muffled?)
Noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable, so stick to these rules.
Use protection. Earplugs can save your drums from damage, but most people just jam them inside their ear with half the earplug still sticking out, says Fligor. Remember the “roll, pull, and hold” rule: Roll the plug into a thin cylinder, and then with your other hand, pull the top of your ear up to straighten out the ear canal. Then wedge the plug into your ear until you can only see a small piece. Drugstore earplugs will do the job just fine.
Buy the right buds. Invest in a quality pair of noise-isolating earbuds like those made by Etymotic, Yurbuds, or Shure. “Because of the background noise, everyone is turning up the volume on their iPods,” says Fligor. You’ll want to keep the volume at 80 percent–that is, if your volume can go up to 10, stick to level 8–for a total of 90 minutes a day. To listen longer, keep the volume at 60 percent.
Be wary about painkillers. A study in The American Journal of Medicine found that people who took painkillers at least twice a week may have an increased risk of hearing loss. The researchers found that people younger than 50 who took an acetaminophen like Tylenol were twice as likely to have hearing loss than those who didn’t take an acetaminophen. Why? It may deplete the hearing organ inside your ear of an antioxidant that protects against cellular damage. Call your doc if you notice ringing ears while taking a painkiller.
Do a test. If you’re not sure whether your environment is breaking the sound barrier, test it with an iPhone app like Studio Six, which has a sound level meter that will spit out decibels. If you’re stuck in a construction zone during traffic or are on the subway, use this app to measure the sound level. If it’s above 80, pop in earplugs. Here are more tips to Protect Your Ears from City Noise.