Hearing loss is on the rise, with estimates that almost 2.5 billion people worldwide – 25 percent of our global population – will live with some degree of loss by 2050. One of the main causes of hearing loss – loud noise – can be hard to avoid, especially as both children and adults are plugged into portable devices with headphones and earbuds more than ever. Listening to devices through headphones at a high volume, for extended periods of time, can result in lifelong hearing loss.
Most technology today can produce sounds up to 120 decibels, which is equivalent to being at a live music concert. Hearing loss at this volume can happen quickly – as soon as an hour and fifteen minutes after listening to sound at that level. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when the hair cells in the ear are damaged or destroyed by increased noise exposure. When that happens, hair cells can no longer send information about sounds to the brain, which reduces or impacts your ability to hear those sounds. Humans are unable to re-grow these hair cells, making this damage permanent.
To prevent NIHL, you need to ensure that you are caring for your hearing properly when wearing headphones. Headphones and earbuds are not necessarily bad or dangerous, but need to be used responsibly in order to keep your ears safe.
Here are some guidelines to follow to ensure you are preventing hearing loss from headphone usage:
- Follow the 60/60 rule. Listen at 60 percent of the maximum volume for 60 minutes at a time. After that, give your ears a break from your headphones. You may find it helpful to set a timer or reminder so you know when those 60 minutes are up.
- Use noise-cancelling or noise-reducing headphones. These allow you to maintain a lower volume level when listening to a movie or music since you don’t have to turn up the volume to overcome outside noise distractions.
- Make sure your headphones fit properly. If they are too loose and you feel like you are losing sound, you may turn up the volume to more harmful levels to compensate.
- Use larger headphones. Select the type that rest over the ear opening instead of earphones/earbuds that are placed directly in your ear. These may have more potential for hearing damage than headphones because they sit closer to the eardrum and provide more direct vibration, increasing the decibel level of the sound by seven to nine decibels from its original level.
- Set a volume limit. Only you should be able to hear your music, so if it can be heard by someone else in the room, it’s too loud. Check your device too, some allow you to set custom volume limits to better protect your ears.
Overall, the louder the volume in your headphones, the shorter your duration of listening should be. Avoiding excessive use of listening devices altogether will go a long way in preventing hearing loss.
It’s hard to know if overexposure to loud noises has impacted your hearing. Typically, it’s diagnosed once you feel the effects and the damage has been done. Signs of hearing loss from headphones are not immediate and can progress over a long period of time. Be sure to monitor your hearing, any of the following symptoms may indicate you have started to develop hearing issues:
- Ringing, roaring, hissing or buzzing in the ear
- Difficulty understanding speech in noisy places or places with poor acoustics
- Muffled sounds and a feeling that your ear is plugged or blocked
- Listening to TV or radio at a higher volume than in the past
Hearing loss caused by overexposure to loud noises is irreversible, which makes prevention critical. If you have suffered hearing loss, there are various treatment options available to try to improve your hearing or help you adapt to it. The most common treatments for hearing loss due to noise is use of hearing aids or cochlear implants. A hearing aid will amplify sound and direct it into your ear canal. For more severe cases, cochlear implants are used, which bypass damaged or nonworking parts of your inner ear and directly stimulate the hearing nerve to increase overall hearing. Your audiologist can help you determine which treatment is best for you.
It is crucial that care is exercised when using headphones. Moderation is key when it comes to minimizing damage to your hearing and avoiding long-term issues. If you notice any symptoms of hearing loss, schedule an appointment online with one of our audiologists to get your hearing tested.