Headphones are a staple among everyone’s electronic devices, from people who work from home and need to focus, to people who commute often and want to enjoy their music while doing that.
The thing is, when using headphones, you’re basically “forcing” music into your ear canal, and one has to wonder, doesn’t that lead to hearing loss?
And while the short answer is “yes”, there’s a lot more to it. So, let’s take a look at how headphones work, why they might damage our hearing, and what we, as users, can do to prevent that.
How do headphones cause hearing loss?
When you think about the human ear, you will find that it’s not really suited for loud noises. It has developed to be able to detect even the lowest-level sound, because it’s a natural survival tool.
For example, for prey animals like deer or rabbits, their hearing helps them avoid any predators. And while ours might not be as sensitive, they’re there to help us avoid danger, too.
When you’re walking around in the world, you don’t have that many loud noises. And even if you do, they aren’t consistent, and they aren’t consistently loud. Most of them are rather subtle and quiet.
Therefore, the ear hasn’t really evolved to manage said loud noises. Instead, it picks up the more gentle ones better.
So, what do you do when you put a pair of earbuds? You introduce a sound that’s artificially loud. And this can very well lead to hearing loss. Sound is created as a reaction in the brain, which is caused by the tiny hairs’ vibration in your inner ear’s chamber.
When you’re listening to loud music, the strength of these vibrations is increased. Extended intense vibrations aren’t really what those super thin hairs are made for, and they are unable to deal with the stress.
In this case, one of two things happens. The first thing is that your hairs are damaged, and have lost a bit of sensitivity. In this case, they do recover over time. For example, when you’re on a concert, you find that you can’t really hear well when you leave.
But after a while, the hairs heal and your hearing goes back to normal.
The second thing is music that’s too loud, for too long. In this case, you can damage the hairs beyond repair. They won’t vibrate with sound, and will become pretty much useless. This is permanent hearing damage.
Can you reverse it?
If you’ve caused permanent hearing damage due to listening to music too loud, unfortunately that damage can’t be reversed.
You can, however, treat it – the best way to do so are hearing aids. Hearing aids enhance your ear’s ability to hear, and give it a much wider range. If you have hearing loss due to using headphones, you can get your hearing back to normal with a hearing aid.
The best thing to do, however, is prevention. Hearing loss due to wearing headphones is something that’s absolutely preventable, so let’s take a look at things you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
How do you prevent hearing loss?
The first thing you want to do is keep the volume to a reasonable level. Many of us make the mistake of getting a new pair of headphones and blasting them all the way to the max, just to see how far you can push them. This isn’t a good idea.
A noise level of 80 decibels can actually be listened to for longer than 25 hours straight, and there’s no hearing damage risk.
However, that’s still too loud, so if you can keep your music to around 70 decibels, you should be safe. If you have a good, high quality pair of headphones, you will enjoy every piece of the music, without feeling like it’s too quiet.
While we’re at it, you should resist the temptation to turn up the volume when you’re in loud environments.
Whether you’re commuting, or you’re in an airplane and the engine noise is becoming overwhelming, you will definitely be tempted to turn up the volume in order to drown out the noise, and be able to enjoy your music again.
The thing is, to your ears, 80 decibels are 80 decibels, and going higher than that is going to cause damage, regardless of the background noise. If you find yourself dealing with these kinds of situations often, a better option would be to grab yourself a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
To add to this, you should know that in-ear headphones, or earbuds, are much harsher on the ear than over-ear headphones.
This is due to the way the headphones apply sound to the eardrum – with over-ears, that is a much less direct way. Keep in mind, however, that over-ear headphones can still damage your hearing if you push it too far, so you don’t want to get carried away.
Last but not least, you should try to limit the exposure to music in such a direct way. Sure, you can listen to music at around 100 decibels, which is as loud as a drill, but after about ten minutes, that becomes dangerous.
It’s a good idea to not only keep the volume moderate, as we mentioned, but to also limit your exposure. If you really want to enjoy a song, sure, blast it at full volume. But don’t do that with more than one song, and give your ears time to recover afterwards.
At the end of the day, all you have to do to prevent hearing loss due to headphones is to be reasonable with your use.
Don’t go too loud, and don’t use them for too long, and you should be good to go. It’s a simple thing that won’t make too much of a difference to your everyday enjoyment of music, but it will potentially save your hearing.