Have you ever wondered how often you use headphones in everyday life? Listening to music and audiobooks, watching movies and educational material, chatting online and on a smartphone – all these functions are easy and convenient to perform using small earbuds in your ears.
People actively use headphones in the gym, pool, jogging, on excursions, on the subway, on airplanes, and of course at home. Let’s face it, headphones have entered our lives, and many people no longer imagine how they can live without using these convenient gadgets.
Together with this, a valid question arises. Can headphones cause hearing loss? Is it a myth, or is it true?
Can headphones or earbuds damage my hearing?
It’s no secret that all teenagers and most adults use headphones or earbuds in their daily life. At the same time, according to statistics, hearing loss is getting younger. More and more young people are affected by the problem. If earlier it was found mainly among people aged 50-60 years old, coming across among young people only occasionally, then recently the number of patients aged 15 to 35 years old who need hearing aids has increased significantly. Is this just a coincidence? Unfortunately not.
According to WHO, about 1.1 billion young people around the world are at risk. They risk losing hearing due to improper use of various audio devices that have harmful noise effects. It’s important to understand that earbuds are at the top of this list. The cause of the problem is the mechanism of hearing damage.
Each ear contains approximately 16,000 special hair cells that play a very important role in hearing. These cilia send electrical signals to the brain, which perceives them as recognizable external sounds. Unlike many other important parts of our body, hair cells are very fragile and cannot regenerate. It means that even due to slight damage, they lose their functionality. There is nothing to replace the missing hair cells with either. As a result, when hair cells are damaged, a person experiences the so-called noise-induced hearing loss. And the more cilia died, the more serious the problem.
Why headphones cause hearing loss?
Sound pressure from loud music, movies, etc. damages the hair cells, which ultimately leads to their death. WHO considers a noise level of no more than 85 dB to be safe. For most people (without hearing loss), a sound pressure in the range of 70 to 90 dB is comfortable. Manufacturers rely on this data when developing headphones. At the same time, they make a certain power reserve. Some earbuds can operate in the 110 to 120 dB range. At this volume level, our hearing can withstand about a minute before it gets damaged.
Movie theaters, sporting events, workout classes, even birthday parties, or family celebrations can easily reach unsafe noise levels. Additionally, many children and teens frequently use headphones for listening to music, watching shows, or playing video games, leading to sustained and damaging noise exposure.
People tend to increase the volume to the maximum value. This is especially common in noisy places such as the subway, airplane, work, etc. As a result, the user significantly exceeds the safety barrier. Listening to 90dB sound for four hours leads to common hearing problems.
If we increase the volume to 95 dB, our ears will be able to withstand no more than two hours, and if we increase the volume to 110 dB, then the hearing organs will be able to hold out no more than 1.5 minutes. When music is played loudly for several minutes, hearing loss will not occur. The body has protection against short loud sounds. However, hearing loss will surely occur with prolonged exposure to high sound pressure (over 85 dB).
Do you like listening to your favorite music at maximum volume? Then hearing loss from headphones will not keep you waiting long.
Are earbuds especially harmful to hearing?
As we have already learned, hearing loss from earbuds is influenced by a combination of the following factors:
Duration of sound
Frequency of headphone use
Can the design of gadgets affect the perception of sound? Earbuds are the most dangerous to hearing. These small devices send the sound signal directly to the ear canal. At maximum volume (above 95 dB), the devices cause irreparable damage. Thus, earbuds cause hearing loss more often than other headphones.
Of course, if you follow all the necessary recommendations for use (which we will talk about below), then earbuds will not lead to hearing loss. But unfortunately, as practice shows, most people do not know or simply do not want to use safety measures.
How to prevent hearing loss from headphones?
Today it is difficult for a modern person to live without the use of headphones. These small gadgets help you to be alone with yourself, even when you are in a public place. That is why they are so popular and will not go out of everyday use in the coming years.
Should you give up gadgets if you are afraid of hearing loss from earbuds? Of course no. All you need to do is use your headphones correctly and safely.
Our leading audiologist, Dr. Stella Fulman has put together some simple guidelines that will allow you to use your favorite gadgets without damaging your hearing.
Concentrate on quality, not volume. If the headphones sound terrible at medium volume, then you should consider purchasing higher quality ones. This will allow you to hear all the smallest details without raising the volume above acceptable levels
Do not use any headphones, especially earbuds, for more than 60 minutes in a row and more than 120 minutes a day
Try to use active noise-canceling headphones, especially in noisy places (such as subways)
Try to follow the 60/60 rule. Do not exceed the maximum volume of the gadget by more than 60%. Do not use headphones for more than 60 minutes
Do not try to “block out” the surrounding sounds with loud music in noisy places. For example, in the subway, sound pollution is at the level of 100-120 dB. Accordingly, the sound in the headphones must be added to dangerous limits. This should not be done
Do not sleep with headphones
Observe your ear hygiene. Especially if you are using earbuds
Headphones are very useful gadgets. But to preserve your hearing, regardless of the model used, you need to learn how to use them correctly. Follow the simple Audiology Island tips and you won’t have any hearing problems. And instead of hearing loss, you will enjoy your favorite music!
About Dr Stella Fulman
Dr. Stella Fulman, AU.D., CCC-A received her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Audiology from Brooklyn College in 2004 and her Doctorate of Audiology from Salus University in 2008. [ Learn More ]