How many people do you see using headphones or earbuds each day? How often do you use them yourself?
Headphones and earbuds make it convenient to listen to music and shows and stream calls wherever you go. However, listening to audio too loudly and for too long can contribute to serious hearing problems, called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
How Headphones and Earbuds Affect Hearing
Your ears are filled with thousands of tiny hair-like cells that transmit sound signals to your brain for interpretation. Exposure to loud noises for long periods can cause permanent damage to those hair cells, resulting in NIHL.
If you wear headphones or earbuds regularly, your ears are at an increased risk for irreversible hearing loss. That’s especially true if you wear them to block background noise by cranking the volume.
Signs of Headphone-Induced Hearing Loss
Be mindful of these symptoms following headphone or earbud use:
- Temporary hearing loss
- Muffled hearing
- Head or ear pain
- Tinnitus, a ringing, humming or buzzing in your ears
- Ear inflammation or infection
Safe Listening Practices
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends only listening to audio at a maximum of 85 decibels for 8 hours a day to protect your hearing. But even that level may result in hearing loss if you listen to music, podcasts and shows through headphones for extended periods.
Some headphones and earbuds have the capacity to reach similar decibel levels as rock concerts which are well over 85 decibels. Listening to audio at 105 to 110 decibels causes permanent hearing damage in minutes. Sounds that can reach that level include car horns, sporting events and construction noise. Set volume and headphone use limitations on iPhones and Androids to monitor audio intensity.
Tips for Protecting Your Ears and Hearing
Follow the 60/60 rule: You should only listen to audio at 60% volume capacity for 60 minutes.
Take listening breaks: Give your ears time to rest from music and other streamed audio. Take at least ten minutes between listening sessions so your ears can recover.
Invest in over-ear or noise-canceling headphones: You won’t have to crank the volume if you wear headphones that eliminate background noise. Over-ear and noise-canceling headphones prevent ambient sound from leaking in and disrupting your music or show.
Clean regularly: Earbuds are designed to seal your ear to block background noise, but they can also trap moisture and bacteria in your ear canal, causing ear infections and conductive hearing loss. Clean your earbuds before each use and store them in a disinfected case.