Headphones and earbuds - HEARsmart

Headphones & Earbuds

guy wearing headphoneMusic first became “portable” in the 1950s with the iconic transistor radio. The 1980s added personal to portable with the Sony Walkman, and suddenly people could listen to what they liked, where, when and how they liked it. As technologies developed, cassettes were replaced by CDs, mini disks and now MP3s – and of course, battery life, effective ‘memory size’ and headphone technology have all moved on apace too.

The increased opportunity to listen to more and more sound has led to concern that young people are at increased risk of hearing loss and tinnitus. Last year, the WHO estimated that 1.1 billion teenagers and young people are at risk of hearing loss due damaging sound levels from various activities, including the unsafe use of personal audio devices. There is particular concern about people using earbuds because these can funnel sound directly into the ear canal and are often used at higher volumes (compensating for the fact that they don’t usually block out outside sounds). Interestingly, recent research from the National Acoustic Laboratories in Australia shows that hearing loss is actually quite uncommon in young people and hearing thresholds are not associated with increased “leisure listening”. However, they have found a link between tinnitus and leisure noise – those exposed to more leisure noise are more likely to report ringing in the ears, one of the first signs of hearing damage.

So, what does it mean for you?

Portable music devices can get loud and both earbuds and headphones direct that sound directly into your ears – so there’s a  chance you could be putting yourself at risk of permanent noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus if you are using them repeatedly at high volume levels, for long periods of time.

What to do?

  • Use good quality, well fitting, noise-cancelling earbuds or headphones. Not only will you appreciate the sound quality, you’ll find you won’t have to turn up the volume to listen to your favourite tracks if you’re somewhere noisy.
  • Set your device’s volume limiter to around 80%. Most devices can put out well over 100dB (see decibels and damage to get an idea of what this sounds like) so avoid turning it up all the way.
  • Take regular breaks – we all need a rest now and then, and your ears are no exception.

A good rule of thumb (and one that’s backed by research) is to keep your volume below 80% and limit listening to 90 minutes a day.