Earbud Use Could Harm Your Hearing

Earbud Use Could Harm Your Hearing
Dr. Steinberg
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Earbuds have become everyday items that people use to listen to audio. From listening to podcasts, music, or talking on the phone; earbuds allow people to do so easily. Earbuds are small and super portable, allowing people to easily access them when needed. While earbuds are convenient, they can also impact hearing health. Earbuds are actually a common way people are exposed to hazardous noise levels which can cause noise induced hearing loss. If you or a loved one regularly uses earbuds, it is important to practice ways to protect your hearing health which can prevent you from experiencing hearing loss. 

Noise Induced Hearing Loss 

One time or regular exposure to loud noise is a common cause of hearing loss. Known as noise induced hearing loss, this type of hearing loss occurs in the inner ear when sensory cells are damaged. There are thousands of these cells in the cochlea and they play a significant role in how sound is processed. These cells convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals and these signals are sent to the brain. The brain is then able to further process these cells which includes assigning meaning to them, allowing us to understand what we hear. 

Loud noise can damage sensory cells by desensitizing and weakening them which reduces their capacity to effectively process soundwaves. This can result in the brain receiving less auditory information, producing noise induced hearing loss. Unlike other types of cells we have, sensory cells in the inner ear do not regenerate. Humans are actually born with all of the sensory cells we will ever have. This means that any damage they experience is permanent, causing chronic hearing loss, highlighting the importance of protecting your hearing health. 

Earbud Use and Hearing Health 

Earbuds are a common way that people are exposed to excessive noise. You are likely wondering how loud earbuds can get. Well, sound is measured in units known as decibels (dB) and noise above 85dB is considered dangerous for hearing health. For perspective this is equivalent to city traffic, a hair dryer, or a busy restaurant during peak hours. According to experts, people can be exposed to 85dB for 8 hours a day without impacting their hearing health but this is the maximum threshold. For noise that surpasses 85dB, exposure time should be drastically reduced – for every 3 decibel increase (after 85dB), exposure time should be reduced by half the amount of time. 

Earbuds can reach up to 102dB on their highest volume setting, depending on the device they are connected to. At this level, safe exposure time is around 7 minutes! This highlights how risky earbuds can be for hearing health. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 1 billion people globally are at high risk of developing noise induced hearing loss from listening to audio using personal audio devices – and earbuds are a key way people do this. This underscores the importance of mitigating the potential harm earbud use can have on hearing health.  

Tips to Protect Hearing Health 

Noise induced hearing loss is completely preventable. Practicing safety measures can help you protect your hearing health. This includes the following tips: 

1. Apply the 50-60% rule: a helpful rule of thumb to help you use earbuds safely is to use the 50-60% rule. This means keeping your device at 50% – 60% of the maximum volume setting.

2. Measure volume settings: it is also useful to be aware of the maximum volume your device reaches. You can measure the decibels of the sound you are exposed to in different ways including using an app – NIOSH Sound Level Meter App (iOS), NoiSee (iOS), SLPnFFT Noise Meter (iOS), Sound Meter X (iOS), Sound Meter (Android), and SoundPrint (iOS and Android). 

3. Use noise canceling headphones: if you use earbuds regularly, investing in noise canceling headphones might be really beneficial. These headphones use noise canceling technology to reduce background noise, preventing people from having to increase the volume on their device when moving through noisier settings. This allows people to listen to audio safely. 

4. Take listening breaks: taking 5-10 minute listening breaks throughout the day is another great safety measure. This gives your ears and brain a break from constantly absorbing and processing sound. 

Practicing these tips can help protect your hearing health and prevent noise induced hearing loss. Contact us today to learn more about the resources and technologies you can access to support your hearing health and wellness.