How Earbuds Are Causing Hearing Loss in Teenagers and Adults - Attune
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How Earbuds Are Causing Hearing Loss in Teenagers and Adults

Causing Hearing Loss

Airpods are the pocket-size wireless gadget that lets you take music on the go. Last year it was estimated Apple made 12 billion dollars in sales, so as you can imagine if you were to ask every teenager or young adult you know, they’d likely own a set or at least know of them. Unfortunately, while they’ve taken the headphone community by storm, they still pose a risk to hearing loss that users often forget about until it’s too late. 

Lengthy exposure to music through internal earbuds can affect your ability to hear over time. But with headphone culture at its highest, there needs to be more awareness of the potential effects of our favourite headphones. To help create awareness, we’re discussing how earbuds and headphones can put your hearing at risk, but also what you can do to help minimise these effects so you get to remain safe and prevent hearing loss.

How Are Earbuds Damaging Our Hearing? 

Due to their less noticeable size, earbuds are often favoured over other headphone alternatives, proving style is just as paramount as music quality. However, although small and sleek, these earbuds offer no noise isolation, prompting users to turn up the volume whilst in noisy environments such as noisy public transport. The result is our hearing is considerably put at risk, as we may not eleven notice how loud our music is playing. 

With any brand of earbuds, they are inserted internally into the ear canal, allowing music to deliver straight to your ears. However, using earbuds can increase your sound volume by 6 to 9 decibels, which over time is more than enough to cause hearing damage. With over the head earphones, the risk can be minimised in comparison, but they can still be as big of a threat as earbuds if you use them too long or play your music too loud. 

Earphones are a fantastic invention, allowing us to enjoy our own music privately, meaning we don’t have to worry about those around us not sharing the same taste in music. Instead, we can change songs whenever we want, and turn up the music as loud as we want, when we please. 

We want you to enjoy your music to the fullest, but it’s essential to be aware of the health effects and safeguards you can take to reduce or prevent your risks of hearing loss. Hearing loss caused by earbuds are entirely avoidable, so why not adhere to recommendations to avoid the damage? 

With greater awareness of hearing health in more recent years, questions regarding the safety of earbuds have emerged. To help answer some questions surrounding hearing health and music listening, we’ll be answering the following questions: 

  • How does music damage your hearing? 
  • How can I know when my music’s too loud?
  • What are the early signs of hearing loss?
  • How can I prevent damage caused by earbuds?

Music too loud

How Does Music Damage Your Hearing? 

To understand how and why earbuds are detrimental to your hearing, we need to start from the beginning and explain how we can hear music. Looking at how your hearing works and how it can get damaged through loud, extended noise exposure, you’ll quickly see how delicate our hearing is. If we break down the science, the sound is essentially vibration. 

As vibrations travel through the outer ear and down your ear canal to reach your middle ear system, your eardrum, bones, and muscles move your eardrum. These vibrations are then pushed through to the cochlear, a fluid-filled chamber that houses thousands of hair cells. 

Once these vibrations meet the cochlear, the fluid inside your ears chamber moves the hair cells inside the inner ear. Where damage can happen is if a sound is large enough, it can cause the hairs to move to a greater degree. The same goes if you listen to a sound for an extended period or at a higher volume level, those hairs can fold over. So if you’ve wondered how listening to loud music causes temporary hearing loss, this is how. 

Sometimes the tiny hairs recover and can stand up straight again after some recovery. If you’re a frequent concertgoer or work in a loud environment for work, you’re probably familiar with this. However, sometimes in extreme noise cases or if the noise is sustained, the hair cells can be permanently damaged, known as sensorineural hearing loss, which fails to recover over time. Unfortunately, this type of hearing loss is not recoverable. 

How Can I Tell If My Music’s Too Loud? 

We can tell if our music is too loud by monitoring its decibels. Sound is measured through decibels (dBA), a unique scale due to our range of hearing. As humans, we can interpret and differentiate very quiet sounds like a whisper or loud sounds like a helicopter engine. 

Due to this, the decibel scale is known as logarithmic, as it captures a large range of our hearing ability. On the scale, the larger the number, the louder the noise is. If you want to see where your iPod earbuds rank, at a maximum, they can reach a volume of 100 dBA, and for some context, an aircraft can be 130 dBA loud. 

While no one would choose to stand that close to a jet engine, many of us have stood next to concert speakers or played our own music that has been almost as loud or sometimes louder. Noises over 85dBA can be harmful, causing permanent hearing loss, especially if sustained over a prolonged period. 

If you can’t hear someone at an arm’s length away from you while listening to music, that is a sign your music is too loud. If the person you’re talking to also has to shout, that’s another sign your headphones need to be turned down a few notches. 

What Are The Early Signs of Hearing Loss?

Knowing the signs of early hearing loss will help you prevent repeating unhealthy cycles and even prevent yourself from doing further damage to your ears. Hearing loss is usually gradual, meaning it accumulates over time. 

To spot early signs of hearing loss, look out for any of the following signs:

  • You notice a ringing in your ears that doesn’t go away. 
  • People seem like they’re mumbling 
  • You ask people to repeat themselves
  • You find it difficult to listen to a conversation in noisy environments 
  • Your TV volume is increased 

How Can I Prevent Damage Caused by Earbuds?

If you’re worried about your earbud use, don’t fret. We don’t suggest you throw away your headphones but instead enjoy using them at a low-to-medium volume setting. That way, you can enjoy music while exercising, studying or travelling while still being conscious of your health. 

To prevent hearing loss caused by earbuds or headphones, follow these tips: 

  • Turn down your volume to 60% of your maximum volume. This is called the 60/60 rule, where music at 60% of your maximum volume can be listened to for 60 minutes. 
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones to avoid playing music louder than necessary in noisy environments.
  • Use over-the-ear models to prevent damage to your ear canal.
  • Limit your exposure time to 60 minutes at a time, or lower the volume. 

Time For a Hearing Test

Is it Time For a Hearing Test? 

If you’re experiencing some of the signs of hearing loss, or you’re afraid you’ve damaged your hearing, we suggest you make an assessment with your Audiologist. As a full-service true diagnostic audiology company, Attune’s trained audiologists can assess your hearing and create a tailor-made solution.

This may be a hearing aid, which nowadays is as discreet as they’ve ever been. Some of these you can connect to your smartphone, which can play music at healthy volumes. 

Like other health conditions, prevention is key. With a little conscious monitoring of your earbud use, you can be sure your hearing health won’t be impacted. So don’t give up your music; just listen smarter!

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