Thanks to personal music players and smartphones, it’s become easier than ever to take your music or podcasts on-the-go. But there are real dangers associated with bad listening habits. If you’re not careful, your headphones or earbuds can cause permanent hearing loss. Below is a guide for safe listening so you can prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when loud sounds damage the stereocilia within the inner ear. Stereocilia are tiny hair cells that convert soundwaves into electrical energy that your brain interprets as sound. Once these hair cells die, they do not regenerate.
Any sound over 85 decibels (dB) can cause noise-induced hearing loss. For reference, this is about the volume of traffic during rush hour or a busy restaurant. According to Dr. Sreekant Cherkari, otolaryngologist in Chicago, “The maximum output [of many devices] can get up to 115 dB which can cause permanent hearing damage in as little as eight to 15 minutes.”
How Do Headphones/Earbuds Cause Damage?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.1 billion young people worldwide are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practice.
Any headphones or earbuds can cause damage when music is played too loud, too long or too often. Some types, however, are more dangerous than others.
Earbuds are particularly dangerous for hearing because they are tiny speakers that funnel music directly into the ear canal. Most earbuds are low quality with poor bass and do not block ambient noise. These factors combined cause people to turn up the volume much louder than they should.
Over-ear headphones are somewhat better since there is more of a buffer space between the speaker and the ear canal. However, they are also often low-quality and can cause damage if played too loud.
Safer Listening Alternatives
Noise-cancelling headphones work by using inverse waves to cancel outside noises, especially low-frequency ones. Noise-isolating headphones create a seal around the ear that provides a physical barrier that blocks sound. Both models are typically more expensive than regular earbuds or over-ear headphones, but the higher quality and filtering of background noise helps you listen at a safer noise level.
The rule of thumb is to listen to your devices for no more than 60 minutes at a time at no more than 60 percent of the maximum volume. This is known as the 60/60 rule.
For more information about safe listening or to schedule an appointment with an audiologist, call the Hearing & Balance Center at Charleston ENT today.