Latest posts by Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA (see all)
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These days, it seems like everyone is plugged into a device, whether making a phone call or listening to music on their commute. It may be that the headphones you are wearing are contributing to hearing damage. Headphones are getting smaller and more technologically advanced. Smaller is not always better, in fact. There are in fact links between the use of in-ear headphones and the elevated risk of hearing loss.
Addressing question of headphones and hearing loss is seemingly especially important for teenagers and young people. Hearing loss does not only affect older and elderly people.
The signs of hearing loss do in fact increase as people age, but there more and more younger people who are experiencing the effects of hearing loss. In fact, 1 in 5 teens has some form of hearing loss in the United States. This is approximately 30% more teens than were recorded having hearing loss in the 1980s and 1990s. Apart from teenagers, there are also nearly six million people between the ages of 18 and 44 who are experiencing hearing loss.
Recognizing the Signs of Hearing Loss
Some signs of hearing loss include ringing, hissing, or whistling in the ear (also called tinnitus), a feeling that sound is muffled or that the ear is plugged, difficulty understanding speech in busy places, and listening to devices such as the TV at higher than expected volumes.
This hearing loss can occur as the result of genetic factors, but hearing loss can also be the result of environmental factors: it can be caused by exposure to loud noises. In many ways we associate hearing loss with the kinds of loud noises that happen in workplaces that use heavy machinery or in occupations such as military work where you might be exposed to the sounds of sirens and explosives.
Hearing loss can also occur from sustained or temporary exposure to loud noises experienced at, for example, live music concerts. There are also more some more unexpected ways that hearing loss can be caused—including from frequently using in-ear headphones and/or listening to headphones at a sustained, loud volume. In-ear headphones (otherwise known as earbuds) are typically inserted into the ear canal, where a soft rubber cup holds the device in place. Audiologists generally agree that sounds over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. When earbuds are put into your ear canal, they are closer to your ear drum and can increase the sound by upwards of 9 decibels.
Protecting Your Hearing
There are some things that you and the young people around you can do to address the links between headphones and hearing loss. There is a general rule of thumb that is good to follow: listen to music in your headphones at 60% of maximum volume and only listen for a maximum of 60 minutes a day. If the volume is louder than 60%, then decrease the time you spend listening. It is important to be vigilant about how loud you play your music in your headphones. People often turn their headphones up as loudly as possible when in the midst of other sounds, as frequently happens when you are on, for example, public transportation or when you are flying.
Another thing you can do to interrupt the links between hearing loss and headphone use is to simply switch the style of headphones you use. Switching from earbuds to over-the-ear headphones can help. These headphones fit over your entire ear, and some versions create a “seal” (as happens with noise cancelling headphones that prevent outside noise) whereas others are considered “open” style, and allow background noise in. No matter the style of headphones you use, you also may want to consider turning the bass down.
If you are a parent, you may want to consider restricting the volume of your children’s devices. Many cellphones, for example, allow you to set a maximum volume. This will ensure that your children cannot listen at too loud a volume, and will go a long way to protect their hearing.
There are other ways that you can address hearing loss, apart from paying close attention to your headphone use. Be sure to limit your exposure to loud noises when possible—cover your ears when exposed to sudden loud noises and take breaks when you are in loud venues such as music venues. Consider investing in earplugs that you can pull out when needed. No matter what, an annual hearing test is an important part of your hearing health.
Visit Us at Encore Hearing
If you’ve experienced changes in your hearing, it is important to schedule a hearing test. Our team at Encore Hearing provides comprehensive hearing tests, and if we detect a hearing loss, we’ll work with you to determine the best treatment to meet your hearing needs. Contact us at Encore Hearing today to learn more.