Earbud use is more common now than ever before. We use earbuds to listen to music while exercising, sitting in on virtual work meetings, and enjoying podcasts. Earbuds are becoming an essential device used to navigate digital technology. It is also a major way people are exposed to higher volumes of noise. This increased exposure to loud noise can significantly contribute to the development of noise-induced hearing loss. Over 48 million people have hearing loss, making impaired hearing one of the most common health conditions people live with today. And according to the Hearing Health Foundation, 20% of children have permanent hearing loss largely caused by loud noise. Understanding how earbud use contributes to this and ways to mitigate impact can help prevent harm to your hearing health.
How Loud is too loud?
Sound is measured in decibels and according to hearing healthcare experts, noise above 85dB can be hazardous for hearing health. This is the equivalent of busy city traffic, a vacuum cleaner, or a hairdryer. Experts suggest that people can be exposed to 85dB for 8 hours a day without damaging their hearing but exceeding this can be harmful. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s guidelines for safe listening recommends reducing exposure time drastically for increasing levels of sound. Their guidelines emphasize reducing exposure time in half for every 3-decibel increase of noise after 85dB:
- 85dB: 8 hours
- 88dB: 4 hours
- 91dB: 2 hours
- 94dB: 1 hour
- 97dB: 30min
Earbuds, depending on the type, can easily surpass 85dB. There are electronic devices that, on higher volume settings, can exceed 100dB. The iPhone for example, on the loudest setting, is 102dB! At this level, safe exposure time is only 10 minutes. Exceeding this can irreparably damage hearing health.
Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear which play an integral role in how we hear. These sensory cells send important auditory information to the brain. The brain receives these signals and then can further process and analyze them, assigning meaning to these signals which is how we understand what we hear. Loud noise can cause these hair cells to lose sensitivity and/or die over time, preventing them from performing their critical function of processing incoming sound waves and sending this information to the brain. This results in permanent hearing loss.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
There are numerous ways you can prevent noise-induced hearing loss. Tips to protect your hearing health include:
- Invest in noise cancellation headphones: these headphones use noise-canceling technology to reduce background noise. This prevents people from increasing the volume when moving through noisier environments, allowing people to safely listen to audio.
- Take listening breaks: the ears and brain are constantly exposed to, absorbing, and processing speech as well as sound. Taking listening breaks gives your auditory system quiet time to rest and recuperate. You can do this by powering off devices and sources of noise (television, music, kitchen appliances) and being in a noise-free space.
- Reduce exposure to loud noise: in addition to noise-canceling headphones and taking listening breaks, there are numerous ways you can reduce your exposure to loud noise including:
- wear hearing protection: this includes earplugs and headphones which provide a protective barrier for the ears, reducing the amount of loud noise you absorb.
- avoid noisy settings: avoid noisier settings, especially during peak hours, and opt for quieter environments when you can.
- maintain low volume settings: be sure to maintain lower volume settings on your electronic devices. Experts recommend the 60%/60-minute rule: listening to audio no more than 60% of the maximum volume
- Have hearing tested regularly: another great way to protect your hearing is to have your hearing tested regularly. Conducted by a hearing healthcare provider, hearing tests involve a painless process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and establishes your hearing needs. Getting your hearing tested regularly allows you to track your hearing health and identify any changes early on.
These strategies can help prevent noise-induced hearing loss and protect your hearing health. Contact us to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation.