Headphones are part of everyday life, whether we are wearing headphones while working out or pulling them out of our teenager’s ears to ask them a question. With our world being so wired, headphones are how we listen to music, get our news via podcasts, watch Netflix, and often even communicate at work. While headphones are an ubiquitous part of our world, they do not come without risk. Headphones pose a danger to hearing for several reasons, but there are ways to prevent the damage.
Types of Headphones
Headphones typically come in two standard forms, earbuds or over-the-ear headphones. Earbuds are far more popular- they are tiny, fit into your ear canal, easy to transport, and inexpensive. Earbuds can be bought almost anywhere, even at a convenience store, and can cost as little as five dollars to buy. Their accessibility and size mean that most people have at least one pair, even young children.
Headphones that are worn over the ears tend to be more expensive, but also deliver a much better sound quality. Their size and cost make them a less popular option, even though headphones tend to cancel out exterior noises and sound much better. An inexpensive pair begins around fifty dollars, making them a less desirable option for many listeners.
Several factors make headphones risky, whether you choose to wear earbuds or over-the-ear headphones. Volume poses the largest risk to your hearing- sounds below 80 decibels are considered safe, but many people listen to their music at ranges from 85 to 110 decibels. Even a few minutes at these ranges can harm your hearing.
Length of time using headphones can also risk harming your hearing. The longer that you listen to loud music, the more you risk damaging your ears. Most experts recommend no more than one hour of headphones a day and less if you are listening to music at a high volume.
Finally, earbuds hold more risk than actual headphones. Ear buds fit directly into the ear, so they are pumping sound into the ear. Cheap ear buds don’t have noise canceling features, so wearers tend to turn the volume up higher, which goes directly into the ear canal. This can cause more damage to the nerve cells and hairs that vibrate within the ear, causing more hearing loss.
Signs of Damage
Hearing loss is initially easy to overlook. Hearing loss can creep up on you, with sounds getting a little harder to hear, and voices sounding a bit more muffled than normal. You might find that you need to turn your television up a couple of notches, or ask your loved ones to repeat themselves. A ringing or buzzing in your ears, known as tinnitus, is an important warning sign that you should not ignore. Your friends and family might notice your hearing loss before you do- if they pick up on you asking them to repeat themselves or not understanding them, heed their warning!
Ways to Prevent Damage
There are several ways to avoid damaging your hearing if you want to wear headphones.
- The easiest way is to turn your volume down. Keeping your volume at 70 decibels or lower is a wise idea, which typically means that you should not go above 60% of the volume on your device.
- Limit the time that you have headphones in. Most experts recommend no more than an hour a day of headphone usage. If you are going to listen for longer periods, give your ears a listening break, and make sure that you are not listening at louder than recommended levels.
- Invest in quality headphones. Over-the-ear headphones are the best option- they cost significantly more but will give you better sound and protect your hearing more completely, both with their sound-cancelling ability and with not going into your ear canal. If you truly prefer earbuds, do your homework and get a good pair that has some sound-cancelling ability and have a tighter fit in the ear canal. Custom-made ear buds can be a good choice because they will almost completely block out background noise so that you don’t feel the need to crank your volume.
- If you think you might have hearing loss, take our one-minute hearing quiz to find out. This can help you decide if you need to seek professional guidance, and take care of your ears. In the meantime, follow our advice to safely enjoy your music!