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7 Tips to Avoid iPhone & iPod Hearing Loss

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woman listening to ipod with headphones
Michael H/Digital Vision/Getty Images

It’s ironic: the very thing that drives us to get an iPod – music – could prevent our ability to enjoy it. After all, listening to the iPod too much or too loud can lead to hearing loss, depriving you of the ability to enjoy music (and your iPod).

And even though most of us don’t think too much about it, iPod hearing loss is a serious risk for many iPod users.

A growing body of research is showing that how we listen to our iPods can cause lasting hearing damage. The iPod can produce a maximum of 100-115 decibels (software limits European iPods to 100 db; U.S. models have been measured higher), which is the equivalent of attending a rock concert.

Some studies have even found that some people in their 20s have hearing loss more typical of 50 year olds, thanks to this kind of exposure (of course, this isn’t an iPod-specific problem: Walkman users had the same problem in the 80s).

So what can a concerned iPod user, who nevertheless doesn’t want to give up their iPod, do?

7 Tips to Avoid iPod Hearing Loss

1. Don’t Listen So Loud – Most researchers agree that it’s safe to regularly listen to your iPod at about 70% of its maximum volume. Anything louder than that over an extended period is risky.

2. Use Volume Control – In response to consumer concerns, Apple offers a volume limit setting for some iPods. If your iPod support this, you'll generally find it on the main iPod management screen that comes up when you sync. Otherwise, you can also restrict the maximum volume of a song in "options" tab of any song in iTunes.

3. Limit Your Listening – The length of time you listen, not just the volume, can contribute to hearing loss. The louder the music, the shorter you can listen, but giving your ears a chance to rest between sessions will help them heal.

4. Use the 60/60 Rule – Since the combination of volume and length of exposure can cause hearing loss, researchers recommend applying the 60/60 rule: listen to an iPod for 60 minutes at 60% of max volume and then take a break. Ears that get a rest have time to recover and are less likely to be damaged.

5. Don’t Use Earbuds – Despite them being included with every iPod and iPhone, researchers caution against using Apple’s earbuds (or those from other manufacturers). Earbuds are more likely to cause hearing damage than headphones that sit over the ear and they can also be up to 9 db louder than over-the-ear headphones (not such a big deal when you’re going from 50 to 60 db, but much more serious going from 70 to 80).

6. Use Noise Dampening of Cancelling Headphones – The noise around us can contribute to cause us to change how we listen to an iPod. If there’s a lot of noise nearby, it’s likely that we’ll turn up the iPod’s volume, thus increasing the chances of hearing loss. To cut down on, or eliminate, ambient noise, use noise-deadening or –cancelling headphones. They’re more expensive, but your ears will thank you.

7. Never Max It Out – Though it’s easy to find yourself listening to your iPod at max volume, try to avoid this at all costs. Researchers advise that it’s safe to listen to your iPod at maximum volume for just 5 minutes.

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