As our society and culture are increasingly connected through technology, the use of headphones has increased. Headphones allow people to enjoy music and have conversations from anywhere and anytime. The ease of use of headphones and the mobility they allow cannot be overstated. This is especially true today, as our society is spending more time with virtual meetings and headphones during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the convenience of the headphones and the increased utility, questions about the safety of use have been raised. There is a healthy use of headphones; you just need to know the safe sound levels and when to take a break from the headphones.
How does sound cause hearing loss?
Isn’t sound supposed to provide a tool for communication and awareness of our environment? Yes, sound is an essential mode of communication which also directs us towards our environment; however, the inner ear is very sensitive to the sound balance it perceives. There are thousands of cells in the ears, some of which have small hair-like structures called hair cells that are responsible for transmitting sound from the ears to the brain, where it is then processed. Excessive sound can cause permanent damage to these cells, disrupting the sound transmission mechanism. Damage can also occur through the connection between hair cells and nerve cells, which can be interrupted by excessive sound, even though the hair cells remain normal. In short, one thing is clear: too loud is harmful.
How too strong is he?
The CDC has detailed information on various daily experiences and the volume, or decibel (dB) level, associated with them. One of the important things to note when using headphones is that personal listening devices are set to a maximum volume of around 105 to 110 dB. For reference, exposure to sound levels greater than 85 dB (equal to a lawn mower or leaf blower) can cause damage to the ears with exposure for more than two hours, while exposure to 105 to 110 dB sound can cause damage in five minutes. Sound below 70 dB is unlikely to cause significant damage to the ears. This is important to know, because the maximum volume of personal listening devices is above the threshold at which damage occurs (in children and adults)! It is important that as a listener you are aware that most devices can, in fact, be used in harmful ways. Ultimately, personal listening devices should be comfortable for the listener.
Using the headset: how long is it too long?
Besides volume, the duration of sound exposure is an important factor that contributes to possible hearing damage. Simply put, louder sounds can cause more damage with less exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide hearing protection to employees whose average exposure is 85 dB for more than eight hours. While that sounds like a long time, using headphones at slightly higher sound levels can cause damage in under an hour, and it’s easy to imagine listening to music through headphones for an hour or more. . It is important to note that listening at a comfortable level should be safe for an unlimited time, although it is essential to balance the duration of use with the volume of exposure.
Suggestions for safe listening
Our ears can be damaged by excessive sound, and the combination of excessive sound level and length of exposure contributes to potential hearing problems. Here are some suggestions for healthy listening habits.
- Be aware of how long you are listening and how powerful the sound is.
- Take breaks after prolonged listening sessions and make sure you are listening at a comfortable level.
- Be ready. If you are going to attend an event where there is likely to be prolonged noise (such as a concert or sporting event), bring earplugs or headphones. There are a range of devices available that offer protection against a potentially damaging situation, from simple foam headphones, to headphones with noise-canceling properties, to customizable ear tips made by an audiologist.
- Finally, do not hesitate to speak with an audiologist or an otolaryngologist with all your questions regarding the use of headphones or safe sound levels. Hearing health is important and complex, and we can help you take steps to protect your ears while using headphones.
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