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Do Headphones Hurt Your Hearing?



Headphones are a fantastic invention, aren’t they? Whether you’re on a packed subway or going for a jog, headphones allow you to be in your own little universe. Listening to your favorite music or latest podcast is like a small slice of heaven when you can enjoy these sounds on your own – with nobody else listening in.

But did you know that excessive headphone use could damage your hearing over time? All too often, we can hear what someone else is listening to on their personal headphones.  This is a clear indication that the volume is up way too high. So just how loud is too loud?  Read on to find out!

“Can you turn that down, please?”

When someone next to us is listening to music on their headphones, we may notice it is too loud if we can hear the lyrics and the drum solos blaring from the earbuds. But the fact is when our ears get accustomed to a certain volume — these decibel levels no longer seem all that intrusive. So chances are, the headphone-user has no clue the volume is too loud.

Doctors say most electronic devices can produce noises of up to 120 decibels. That’s the equivalent of volume levels at a rock concert. When our eardrums are constantly exposed to this, hearing loss will occur…

“And how long does that take?”

Approximately an hour and 15 minutes are all it takes for hearing to become compromised at these decibel levels.  Think about it:  An hour is not all that long.  Our favorite podcasts often feature hour-long episodes.  Music albums can total more than an hour’s worth of songs. The daily public transit commute from the suburbs to the downtown core can sometimes take more than an hour.  Imagine listening to your headphones under these circumstances each day at a high decibel.  Your hearing can seriously erode over time.

More than just hearing loss

Headphones can cause skin irritations in the ear, especially if you are using earbuds. They can cause rashes, earaches, and even severe headaches. Also: If your headphones are not cleaned properly or if you’re constantly sharing them with others, they can trigger bacterial infections.

Typical signs of hearing loss

If after using your headphones for a prolonged period of time you notice the symptoms below, then it’s best to contact your doctor for treatment.

Signs of hearing loss include:

  • Ringing or buzzing in the ear
  • Tough time hearing speech in noisy areas or areas with poor acoustics
  • A sensation that the ears are plugged with cotton
  • A need to listen to the radio or TV at higher volume levels than in the past

Prevention and Common Sense

If you’re like most people and love listening to your headphones, you may be wondering how to have your cake and eat it too.  Common sense tactics are the best way to enjoy headphone use without damaging your hearing.

Doctors suggest using the “60/60 rule” when it comes to the percentage of volume levels and duration. Also: Consider using the big, padded headphones that sit over your ears as opposed to the small budded ones that go directly inside. If you find the bigger headphones too bulky, use them when you’re indoors instead. And then save the earbuds for active use, like when you’re headed out for a run.