Do headphones effect your hearing?

Many of us wear headphones daily, either at home or out and about when we are on the go. We may be listening to music or a podcast, talking on the phone, or gaming. It’s likely you’ve crossed paths with a headphone user and been able to hear what they’re listening to. Perhaps you’ve even had your own music so loud that others have been able to hear it themselves.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that around a billion young people across the globe could be at risk of hearing loss because of unsafe listening habits through headphones. The NHS warns us that listening to audio through headphones at high intensities can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Safe listening levels might be much lower than you think.

Experts recommend that you should keep sound levels below 85dB. Listening to any sounds higher than 89dB through headphones for more than 5 hours a week can cause permanent hearing loss. The NHS also recommends that you listen to music through your device at no more than 60% of the available volume. If you listen continuously through your headphones, you should only do so for no more than 1 hour at a time – it is important to have breaks and let your ears recover and relax.

Damage to your ears may not be immediately obvious, as the impact could be cumulative over time. Exposure to loud sounds for any length of time causes fatigue of the ear’s sensory cells and if these habits persist, the risk of high frequency loss is increased. This type of hearing loss is called noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). It is preventable if you take care with the volume of your headphones; it’s the loudness and the duration of sound that matters here. Hearing aids may help with NIHL, but a hearing instrument or device will never restore your natural hearing.

Some smartphones have volume limiters, but it’s best not to automatically assume them safe, as they are only provided as a guide. You should be able to find out about volume limiters on your phone through your settings page. Certain models of headphones also sound louder than others at the same device volume, therefore, you could still be at risk of hearing loss, even with an activated volume limiter.

On Apple’s health app, there is a ‘headphone audio levels’ feature that monitors your use of headphones. The exposure and duration of sound is listed, so you can keep an eye on this and see if you need to change your habits.

If you have children, there are child-friendly headphones available that automatically have volume limiters set so they cannot reach loud levels which could be unsafe.

Top tips to protect yourself when listening through headphones:

  • Be mindful of the time spent listening through headphones
  • Use over the ear headphones which have less impact on your ear drum/ear canal, thanks to the noise source being further away (sound is heard up to 9dB louder with in- ear models than with over-ear headphones at the same device volume)
  • Wear noise cancelling headphones (this should prevent you having to turn the volume up to drown out environmental noise)
  • Choose headphones that have a superior sound quality so you are less likely to need to increase the volume
  • Keep an eye on the volume by turning it up just enough so that you can hear music comfortably (even turning the volume down slightly can have a big effect on reducing your risk of hearing loss)
  • Do not share your headphones as there is a risk of infection (also follow the manufacturers guide on how to clean your headphones)
  • Use an app to help you monitor your noise exposure time

If you have concerns about hearing loss, as a result of headphones or otherwise, you can take our online screening test free today! For more information or advice, email [email protected] or call 0800 054 1138.

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