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Is it OK to Turn Up the Volume if You Only Use One Earbud?

Does the 60/60 rule for earbuds still apply if you use only one? I sometimes share my earbuds with a friend, and I find myself turning up the volume a bit (around 70% of volume instead of 60%) to compensate. Is that OK?
- Damian*

Great question! It's actually not OK to turn up the volume beyond 60%, even if you only use one earbud. You can still damage your hearing because each ear has a separate hearing system.

Our ears have tiny hairs inside. Like a Wi-fi connection sending data to a computer, these hairs relay sound messages between the ear and the brain. The brain then figures out what the sound is — a favorite song, for example, or a friend's voice.

These tiny hairs are fragile and easily damaged by sound. When too many hairs get damaged, the ear-brain connection is lost. If this happens more in one ear than in the other, the person hears less (or nothing) in that ear.

Switching a single earbud back and forth between your ears doesn't help. If the sound is louder than 60% of maximum volume, all you're doing is giving both ears equal "damage time."

Instead of sharing earbuds, get a splitter. This inexpensive little device plugs into the headphone jack on your music player and lets you connect two sets of earbuds (or, even better, headphones). You'll protect your own hearing as well as your friend's. Plus, you'll both enjoy a better listening experience because you'll hear the sound as it was intended, through both ears.

For people who haven't heard of the 60/60 rule, it's a great way to protect hearing while using earbuds: Listen at no more than 60% of maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes at a time. After 60 minutes, take out your earbuds and give your ears a rest. Listening to music is like a workout for your ears — they need a "cooldown" period after exercising, just like you do.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2012

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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