Updated: Apr 19, 2019
We only have five senses, so we should be protecting our hearing as well as we protect our sight. You wouldn’t overexpose your sight by looking at the sun once a day, but you might unknowingly be damaging your hearing with use of headphones or earphones on daily basis.
Good hearing is so important in our everyday lives, yet most people with normal hearing don’t even think twice about what it means to be able to hear well. Chatting with friends, listening to the sounds of nature, enjoying music or hearing warning signals – we take it all for granted. Our hearing plays an important role in how we relate to our surroundings. It forms relationships and opens up a wealth of sensory experiences. It is also very complex and extremely sensitive.
Earbuds and headphones have become a staple among our electronics, and an integral part of how we listen to music. You can almost guarantee that if you sit on a train or bus, you’ll be able to hear the distinctive crackle of a pair of headphones or earphones nearby. A recent survey showed that 91% of adults aged between 18 and 44 own a smartphone, all of which came with a pair of earphones. One has to wonder, do headphones cause hearing loss, or is that a scare tactic to make teens take out their earbuds?
Many studies imply that earbuds cause hearing loss. This isn’t caused by using them, necessarily. Like most things, headphones can be used incorrectly and cause damage to our health. By using them too often and too loudly, we can irreparably damage our ability to hear.According to the WHO survey, 1.1 billion young people are at risk of some level of hearing loss by 2030 due to excess use of headphones and earphones. This is a primary concern for young people who listen to music too loudly and too frequently.
So, what can we do to protect our hearing?
Don’t panic; we don’t need to snip all our headphone cords to prevent hearing loss. It all comes down to the amount of time we listen and the volume at which we listen – in other words, the amount of exposure. There are specific rules and guidance on noise exposure levels that come into force in workplace and health and safety law, but how to practically apply this personally is baffling. There have been many attempts to address this issue.
Listening at a high volume is one of the leading causes of noise damage to the ear. The volume should never exceed 85 decibels. To compare, the normal speaking voice is around 60 decibels, and an emergency vehicle siren is around 115 decibels. Anything above 85 decibels could permanently damage our hearing. Consider downloading an app on your phone to measure the decibel level in any given environment.
The amount of time we use the headphones or earbuds is also an important factor to consider. The longer the use, the more likely damage will occur. A common rule to remember is 60 percent volume for 60 minutes and then take a break. Following this simple 60/60 rule will prevent any hearing loss.
When shopping for headphones, there are several factors to take into consideration. There are two main types of headphones to choose from. Over-the-ear headphones are large and cover the whole ear while earbuds are smaller and are inserted into the ear. Between these two options, earbuds may be slightly safer for our hearing because the sound is emitted closer to our eardrum so the volume doesn’t need to be so high.
Before we decide to get noise-canceling headphones, we should think about the circumstances where we plan to use them. Noise-canceling headphones are great for listening on an airplane or out in public, but they can be disastrous if used when biking or jogging where environmental awareness is crucial for safety.
There is one other option for headphone which is much safer and works on bone conduction technology. In this technology, the sound gets transported through our skull bones, directly into the inner ear. Sounds complicated? Well, it may surprise you but bone conduction is in fact a natural process, taking place every time we speak. Bone conduction has a number of benefits compared to our headphones, such as the fact that we don’t need an in-ear or over-ear headphone to enjoy music. This way we can listen to music or other audio without having to miss the ambient sounds and damaging our ears.
Hearing loss is usually a gradual process that takes many years – so gradual that we don’t immediately recognize its negative effects in our lives. So it is better to be addressed now before it’s too late.