Headphones are a great way to listen to music without disturbing others. They also double as a covert way to enjoy Nickelback or Justin Bieber without the risk of ridicule from your friends. But before you crank up the volume, keep in mind that listening to music through headphones can cause hearing loss if you aren’t careful.
The Hazards of Excess Noise
About one in five people in Phoenix experiences hearing loss to some degree. That translates to roughly 48 million Americans, making it one of the most common physical health conditions in the U.S. And one of the top causes of hearing loss in Arizona? Good old-fashioned noise.
Excess noise damages the tiny hair cells in the inner ear responsible for hearing. Known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), permanent damage occurs when volume levels exceed 85 decibels (dB) for an extended period of time. The louder the sound, the less safe exposure time you have. For instance, you can safely tolerate 85 decibels – about the sound of Phoenix traffic – for eight hours, but at 100 dB, equivalent to riding a motorcycle or using a handheld drill, damage can occur in as little as 15 minutes.
Headphones are a potentially hazardous source of NIHL. While maximum output levels vary by manufacturer, they typically range from 75 – 136 dB. When listening to music that loudly, it doesn’t take long for your hearing to suffer the consequences. It’s estimated that 50 percent of teenagers and young adults in Phoenix are regularly exposed to unsafe volume levels through personal audio devices, and 5.3 percent pay the ultimate price: irreversible hearing loss. We’re not suggesting you ditch your cool Bose QC-35 wireless headphones; by taking a few precautions to reduce your risk of hearing damage, you can still enjoy your rock ‘n roll (or disco, if that’s what floats your boat – we won’t judge!).
Tips for Safe Headphone Use
The best way to prevent NIHL when listening to headphones should be blatantly obvious: turn down the volume! Limiting your use also helps. Experts suggest adopting the 80-90 rule, which stipulates listening to music at 80 percent of maximum volume for no longer than 90 minutes. Don’t worry, that’s plenty of time to listen to “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety. Twice!
Look for headphones with features designed to protect your hearing, as well. Noise-canceling headphones rely on technology that creates sound waves to block outside noise, allowing you to listen at a lower volume level since you won’t have to turn up the music in order to drown out external noise. Some manufacturers have headphones that automatically adjust volume levels based on how long you’ve been using them and how loudly you are playing your music, so if that Eminem song cuts off midway through, this could be a hint that it’s time to give your ears a rest.
One final piece of advice: learn to recognize the signs of hearing damage before it’s too late. If your ears are ringing after removing your headphones, you’re listening to the music too loudly. You should take periodic breaks every 15-30 minutes regardless of the volume level anyway. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much Garth Brooks.
For more information on NIHL and safe headphone use, contact your Phoenix audiologist today.