Are Earbuds Safe For Hearing?
The use of earbuds is becoming increasingly common. Earbuds have become an everyday essential item used to listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc. People use earbuds while traveling, commuting, running errands, and doing household chores. Though wireless earbuds allow us to conveniently listen to audio in any environment, they can potentially be hazardous for hearing health.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
One of the most common causes of hearing loss is exposure to loud noise. One-time or regular exposure to excessive noise levels can permanently damage the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing. Loud noise can desensitize and weaken the hair cells in the inner ear which play an important role in how sound is processed. Sound waves travel through the ear canal and reach the inner ear where sensory cells in the cochlea help convert them into electrical signals. These signals then get carried to the brain to be further processed. This allows the brain to assign meaning to these signals which is how we understand what we hear.
Sensory cells in the inner ear do not regenerate unlike other types of cells we have. There are also no medical interventions that can repair or replenish them. This means that any damage they experience is permanent. The impact that loud noise can have on these cells prevents them from performing their essential function which results in the brain receiving less auditory information. This produces a chronic, noise-induced hearing loss.
How Loud Do Earbuds Get?
Earbuds are a major way people are exposed to loud noise. Sound is measured in decibels (dB) and sound above 85dB can be dangerous for hearing health. For perspective, this is equivalent to a noisy restaurant, a hair dryer, and busy city traffic. Experts suggest that people can be exposed to noise at 85dB for 8 hours a day without compromising hearing health but this is the maximum threshold for safe listening. Earbuds, depending on the type and the device it is connected to, can reach high noise levels. For example, the earbuds that are connected to an iPhone playing audio on the highest setting can reach around 102dB! At this level, safe exposure time is around 7 minutes. This highlights just how hazardous earbud use can be for hearing. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 1 billion people are at high risk for noise-induced hearing loss as a result of audio devices and other recreational noise exposure.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
Noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable. Practicing safety measures can protect hearing health which is especially important if you use earbuds regularly. You can integrate the following tips:
- Use the 50-60% rule: a useful way to easily know and remember what volume levels to keep your devices on is the 50-60% rule. A safe listening level is 50% – 60% of the maximum volume. This allows you to comfortably listen to audio without damaging your hearing.
- Measure sound: it is important to know the noise levels you are exposing yourself to so that you can adjust your exposure time accordingly. Both Apple and Android phones have several apps you can download to measure sound. This includes:
- NIOSH Sound Level Meter App (iOS)
- noise (iOS)
- SLPnFFT Noise Meter (iOS)
- Sound Meter X (iOS)
- Sound Meter (Android)
- SoundPrint (iOS and Android)
Additionally, the health app that is embedded in iPhones and the Apple Watch
measures decibels and can send alerts when it is too loud.
- Invest in noise-canceling headphones: noise cancellation technology reduces background noise. This prevents people from increasing the volume when navigating noisier settings, allowing you to listen safely in all environments.
- Take breaks: it is important to take breaks from noise exposure. You can easily do this by taking a few 5-minute breaks throughout the day when you are not actively listening to audio. This gives your ears and brain a break from constantly absorbing and processing noise.
- Test hearing: Another great tip is to have your hearing evaluated regularly. Hearing tests are painless and allow you to track your hearing health and address any changes you may experience early on.
If your earbuds seem loud, then they likely are loud so be sure to maintain lower volume settings. These strategies can reduce your risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss which is completely preventable. Contact us to learn more about how you can prioritize your hearing health.