Hearing loss can be caused by temporary and sustained exposure to loud noises, such as those that happen in workplaces that use heavy machinery or in occupations such as military work where you might be frequently exposed to the sounds of sirens, heavy machinery, and explosives. Researchers have found that our use of headphones is also a growing contributor to hearing loss in people of all ages.
Today’s headphones are more technologically advanced than ever: they are smaller, lighter, and boast ever greater sound. In-ear headphones, which are otherwise known as earbuds, can have a dark side, however. These small earbuds are inserted into your ear canal and push sound virtually directly to your ear drum, and the mixture of the position of earbuds with our tendency to play our music loudly puts us at greater risk of hearing loss. In fact, audiologists generally agree that sounds over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. When earbuds are put into your ear canal, they are closer to your ear drum and can increase the sound by upwards of 9 decibels.
As you think about ways to practice healthy hearing, take a moment to consider the signs of hearing loss and to be more intentional about your use of headphones.
Hearing Loss Facts
The signs of hearing loss can include sounds such as ringing, hissing, or whistling—a group of sounds that are broadly characterized as tinnitus. Hearing loss can also be signaled by the feeling that sound is muffled or that one or both ears feel plugged. People experiencing hearing loss can have difficulty understanding or comprehending conversations happening with and around them, and may find that being in busy places such as restaurants can make it especially difficult to hear what is happening around them.
The effects of hearing loss are felt by a wide range of people, regardless of age and ability. In other words, hearing loss is not an issue that only affects people who are older. In fact, nearly six million people between the ages of 18 and 44 are experiencing hearing loss in the United States. That means that 1 in 5 teens has some form of hearing loss, which is around 30% more teens than had hearing loss in the 1980s and 1990s. There are some debates about the causes of hearing loss amongst increasingly younger populations. Some researchers argue that devices such as headphones contribute to hearing loss. Recent studies show conflicting information, however, and argue that headphones do not in fact contribute to hearing loss. Regardless of where you fall on the debate, practicing safe headphone behavior will be beneficial to your overall well-being.
Headphones and your hearing health
There are many ways that you can use headphones and practice healthy hearing at the same time. There are some baseline “rules” or guidelines to keep in mind when you are exposed to loud sounds, whether that be at a live concert, a dance club, or out on the street listening to your headphones. First, consider purchasing reusable ear plugs that you can pull out when in loud spaces. Beyond that, it is helpful to simply be more aware of how loudly you are playing music on your headphones. People often turn their headphones up to maximum volume when they are listening in the midst of other sounds, as happens when on public transportation or while flying. If you can hear your music in your headphones when you are not wearing them, it is likely that you have the volume up too loudly. Following this, a general rule of thumb for headphone usage is good to follow: listen at 60% of maximum volume for a maximum of 60 minutes a day. If the volume is louder than that, decrease the time you spend listening. It might also be useful to simply switch from earbuds to over-the-ear headphones. If you are managing the headphone use of children, look at settings of your devices to see if you can restrict the maximum volume.
There are many small ways to practice healthy hearing. Taking a moment to consider how you wear headphones, for how long, and how loudly you listen is a big step in protecting your hearing.
Visit Us at Hearing Health
Are you concerned about your hearing abilities? Visit us at Hearing Health in Portland to take a hearing test and learn more about healthy hearing practices.