It is practically normal to see people everywhere wearing headphones. Ear buds, ear phones, headphones, Bluetooth devices…. everyone is plugged in. The devices include lap tops, cell phones, computers, MP3 players, video game devices, tablets, and so on. When plugged in, you hear what you want to hear more clearly because the sound is traveling directly to you. You hear every little lyric of the song or conversation. The sound is traveling directly to the eardrums without being distorted. However, the chronic use of these devices can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. This loss occurs gradually and often goes unnoticed until certain signs arise of hearing loss. According to the American Medical Association (2011), the use of headphones and earphones had led to a major increase in the prevalence of hearing loss.
The key to noise induced hearing loss is the volume played. Sound is being produced very close to the ear. This causes the eardrums to vibrate. The vibration travels to the inner ear and reaches the cochlea. The cochlea is fluid filled and contains thousands of small hairs. The vibration from the sound causes the hairs to vibrate and move. The louder the sound, the more affected the hairs become. Over time, the hairs lose their sensitivity to the constant vibration. Very loud noises cause the hair cells to actually bend over and fold over. This can lead to temporary hearing loss. The cells take a very long time to recover. Sometimes the cells never recover. Headphones don’t have to be played very loud for this damage to occur. To the ears, playing music loudly can be equivalent to standing next to a loud motorcycle starting up or standing next to a power tool being used. iPod earbuds at 100% volume on an iPhone can reach noise levels of 112dB, leading to hearing damage in minutes. Earbuds should not be played louder than at 60% (80 db). This is of course liability the user takes upon themselves.
Turning down the volume is the best way to reduce hearing damage. You can also purchase noise canceling headphones to drown out other sounds. These block out external sounds so that the volume doesn’t need to be so loud on your device. Limiting your headphone use is also another consideration. It is recommended not to listen to music higher than 60% of maximum volume for no longer than 60 minutes. Headphones that go over the ear versus earbuds that are inserted into the ear are less damaging. We appreciate music, Netflix, gaming, and the ease of communication today being plugged in. The old phrase of all in moderation applies to our listening as well. Louder won’t make the music better, so let your ears enjoy the sound in a non-damaging way. Your hearing will thank you in the future.