Just because headphones are in common use doesn’t necessarily mean that they are safe for our ears.
If anything, it’s possible for headphones to cause damage to our hearing if you do not take some precautionary measures.
The chances are that a lot of us use headphones or earbuds every day whenever you need to listen to something closely on a phone, tablet, or laptop. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, that may not be a safe practice.
How Loud Noises Will Damage Your Hearing
Each time sound waves reach your ears, your eardrums vibrate. The vibration is then sent further down into your cochlea. The louder the sound, the stronger the vibration will be.
When the vibrations begin to get too strong, it can result in some level of temporary hearing loss. That occurs because the several thousand hair cells present in the ear chambers can begin to lose sensitivity.
The hair cells will need time to recover before proper hearing can restore. In extreme cases, the hair cells can be so badly damaged that they can no longer function properly.
The Role of Headphones in Hearing Loss
The number one danger of headphones is that they can create deafening noise levels right next to your ear and thus cause damage in the above manner, much like any other loud noises can. Specifically, experts refer to this as ‘noise-induced hearing loss’.
Of course, you may dismiss this under the argument “well, I never have the volume turned up through my headphones or earbuds very loud anyway”.
But the truth is, the noise created by headphones doesn’t have to be very loud to cause damage. If the hair cells in your cochlea have bent too severely and do not get enough time to recover (meaning you use your headphones at a high enough volume too quickly after the last incident), then the damage can become permanent. In other words, it’s not just the volume that matters, but the length of time you are exposed to it as well.
Simply listening to your headphones at a relatively moderate volume level is enough to cause hearing loss.
For example, a 90db noise (similar to a vehicle or a motorcycle around thirty feet away) can inflict damage in less than three hours. And 105db (similar to a lawnmower in extremely close proximity) can cause hearing issues in mere minutes.
Music from headphones playing at full volume and near or in direct contact with your ear can create 112db, leading to hearing damage within minutes.
Earbuds at roughly 50% volume, meanwhile, will be closer to 75db, which means they will be safe to listen to for several hours at a time.
How To Prevent Your Headphones From Damaging Your Hearing
You can take specific steps to prevent headphones from damaging your ears any further.
The first and most obvious solution is to tune down the volume. Most instances of noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented by simply limiting your exposure to loud sounds.
As stated before, the noise level certainly matters when it comes to hearing loss, but so does the length of exposure. Therefore, consider reducing your listening time as well.
A golden rule is to never listen at more than 60% of the maximum volume. Also, the listening period should be shorter than one hour at a time.
Finally, consider using over-the-ear and noise-canceling headphones, like those, instead of headphones that fit into your ears (such as earbuds). This way, there will be more distance between the speakers and your ears, which reduces your exposure to loud noises.
Remember that your ears may never fully heal if they are damaged enough by loud noises nearby, including noise created by headphones and earbuds. Headphones are useful in everyday life, but they need to be used in moderation using the above solutions.