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Martin Smith

23rd January 2015

Protect Your Hearing From Damage By Headphones


Growing Use of Headphones

Hearing loss caused by headphones is a widely discussed topic. As with exposure to loud noise, exposure to loud music can harm your ability to hear. The growing use of headphones with phones and tablet devices by the young, and not so young has been a major cause for concern.

Louder For Longer

The risk of hearing loss increases as sound is played louder and louder for longer durations. More and more children and young adults are purchasing earphones or headphones, which have almost become a de-rigeur fashion item. Depending on how they are used, they could be doing damage to hearing. Earbuds in particular are placed deeper into the ear canal which increases sound levels, this gives the opportunity to turn the music down, but it seems few rarely do.

Risk of Noise Induced Hearing Loss

With more people listening for longer periods of time, there is a real danger of causing noise induced hearing loss. The worry is that more and more people are exposing themselves to higher volumes of sound for longer periods of time. It is a worry that holds some weight particularly in the teen population. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five American teenagers suffer from hearing loss. That's 20% of American teens.

You should be aware and you should advise your children that they need to be careful when listening to loud music on headphones.  The damage that can be done will make it harder to listen to it in the future if the volume isn't turned down.

How Loud is Loud?

Most earphone volumes peak at 105 decibels, that is well into the danger zone for noise exposure. The easy rule of thumb is if people can hear the music sitting next to you, it may well be too loud.  A good way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss is avoid using audio above 85 decibels and avoid prolonged use of earphones. But just how loud is 85dB? Take a look at these decibel ratings and permissible dose times.

Intensities of Common Sounds in Decibels

Sounds Intensities Permissible exposure time
City Traffic, inside the car 85 dB 8 hours
Bulldozer 88 dB 4 hours
Jazz Concert 91 dB 2 hours
Power Mower 94 dB 1 hour
Nightclub 97 dB 30 minutes
Ambulance Siren, inside driver window down 100 dB 15 minutes
Rock Concert, Leaf Blower 115 dB 30 seconds

As you can see, the louder the sound the less the exposure duration that should be permitted. A 6dB increase in sound from 85 to 91dB cuts the permitted exposure by six hours. At the peak volume of most earphones/headphones you could be damaging your hearing after five minutes. 

Protect Yourself and Your Children

Nearly all audio devices available now such as iPods and mp3 players have automatic volume limiters. These are used to limit the maximum volume level and are usually enabled through software or hardware in music players. There are also add on devices available, which are plugged in between the music source and your earphones. These devices automatically reduce the volume by approximately 18 dB with minimal effect on the sound quality.

Noise Cancelling Headphones

when you are buying headphones you should consider buying noise cancelling, in-ear or closed-back full-size headphones to help seal out enviromental noise. When you reduce the background noise level competing with the music, you can turn the music's volume down.

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