Women's Health

Are headphones damaging my hearing?


Q: I wear headphones to sleep, on Zoom calls, and while working out. Are they damaging my hearing? And if so, how does the damage compare to other helmet styles?

Whether you’re taking phone calls, participating in Zoom meetings, listening to music, or watching TikToks, headphones are probably part of your daily life. But what kind of damage do they do? And do headphones, which may be closer to the inner ear than other styles of headphones, harm your hearing more?

The idea that headphones are more damaging to hearing than other types of headphones is simply wrong, said Cory Portnuff, an audiologist at the University of Colorado Hospital. “The misconception comes from the thought that because an earphone is further in your ear, it would do more damage than something further away.”

It makes sense that we think headphones are worse for our hearing because they send sound directly into the ear canal, he said, whereas other styles of headphones that rest on or over the ear deliver sound at a greater distance. “However, what really matters is the volume of your eardrum, not where it comes from.”

If you’re trying to prevent hearing damage when using headphones, “there’s a simple rule,” Dr. Portnuff said. “It’s called 80 for 90 – you can safely listen at 80% of maximum volume for a total of 90 minutes a day.” If you listen at a lower level you get more beats, if you listen at a louder level you get less beats. If you’re listening at 60% or less of maximum volume, in general, “you can safely listen all day long,” he added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, on average, volume levels for personal listening devices are between 105 and 110 decibels. So if you listen to your headphones at 80% of the loudest volume, or between 84 and 88 decibels, the noise will be comparable to that of a petrol lawn mower or the noise of city traffic from inside a car. a car. . The CDC notes that to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, you should avoid prolonged exposure to ambient sounds above 70 decibels (like that from a washing machine or dishwasher). But ambient noise of 60 decibels or less (like normal conversation or the hum of an air conditioner) usually won’t cause hearing damage.

Dr. Daniel Fink, an internist and chairman of the board of The Quiet Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the health effects of noise, was less permissive in his recommendations. “There is no safe headset,” he said, especially when so many people have to turn up the volume to compensate for the noisy environments around them.

If you’re using headphones in a very loud place and “you can hear the music or understand the spoken words, you’ve probably turned up the volume enough to overcome the ambient noise,” Dr. Fink said. “And that means the listening volume has to be above 80 decibels, and you’re giving yourself enough sound pressure, enough decibels to damage your hearing.”

To combat background noise without amplifying sound levels, Dr. Portnuff and Dr. Fink recommended choosing headphones that block out background noise. Headphones that fit snugly and muffle external sounds, over-ear headphones that seal around your ear, and any listening device with noise-canceling technology are all good options.

The best thing to do is to be aware of the noise around you, Dr. Portnuff said, and how it affects the sound reaching your ears. Some smartphones or smart headphones alert you if your volume is above recommended listening levels.

Loud noises can prematurely and irreversibly damage your hearing — overexposures could cause a 30-year-old man to have the hearing of a 60-year-old man, Dr. Portnuff said. Hearing loss is also usually gradual, which means people often don’t notice it until too late. It’s important to understand the best ways to protect your hearing, he said, so you don’t have those regrets down the line.

It’s also essential to preserve hearing, Dr. Fink said, because hearing loss can sometimes create a positive feedback loop of more harm. When people can’t hear something, they tend to turn up the volume, but that, in turn, can lead to even more damage.

So remember that volume, above all else, matters. “Listen at the lowest possible level that allows you to hear the content you want to listen to,” Dr. Fink said. “If it sounds loud, it’s too loud.”

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