Do you listen to music on headphones each day? Or do you have children that do? Perhaps you use your headphones to enjoy music and peace and quiet during the day. Kids, particularly teens do it too. But you might feel more inclined as the parent to tell them to take off their headphones here and there.
Especially if you’ve asked them to take out the garbage five times already and they haven’t even blinked an acknowledgement. But neglecting chores or responding to your inquiries is the least of your problems. If you don’t talk to your teens about the dangers of hearing loss through headphones, there will be much bigger trouble ahead.
There’s trouble for you too if you don’t watch out for how long you’re using your headphones, or how loud the volume is on them.
For teens though, the statistics are astounding. Because headphones are so common, 1 in 5 teens will have some type of hearing loss. This is 30% higher than just 20 years before, and experts are pinning it on headphones.
It’s not that headphones are a bad thing. In fact, they can bring peace, allow for better musical enjoyment, and even protect your ears from higher decibels, if you use them correctly. The problem with headphones is that most people – both adults and teens – listen for too long or too loud, or some combination of the two.
What’s more concerning is what that means for children. Osteopathic pediatricians warn that high volumes and lengthy listening sessions can cause permanent lifelong hearing loss for kids and teens. This can delay speech and language developments.
That begs the question…how long should you wear your headphones per day? And how loud is too loud? And how can you get your kids to listen to you? For the answers to these questions and more, keep reading!
How long should you wear headphones per day?
Is there a time limit to wearing your headphones every day? As a matter of fact, there is. The answer to the question of how long you should wear your headphones per day is, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), one hour per day.
This might seem unreasonable to you or your teenager (or even both of you) but the fact is that the longer you listen and the louder it is, you’re going to lose your hearing sooner. Hearing loss used to only be a problem as aging set in, but now it’s much more common in younger generations because we tend to blast that music in our ears. Teens and young adults head to concerts and clubs more often too.
Maybe you’ve given up your club-hopping days, but have you given up listening to loud music? If not, you should know that over 1.1 billion people in the age group of 12 to 35 are at the biggest risk of hearing loss, announced by the WHO. There are studies pointing to the increase in hearing damage for younger age brackets over the last decade which is likely the cause of personal devices. iPods, smartphones, headphones, and other devices lead us to listen to our own world of music.
Sometimes, it’s a wonderful thing to shut out the rest of the world and enjoy your music. But the cost of it could be your hearing if you don’t use your devices wisely. Just 25 years ago in 1994, only 3.5% of American teens had hearing loss but by 2006, that percentage increased to 6%. It’s now 13 years later and the statistics continue to rise.
To keep hearing loss from happening to you or your kids, you should follow the recommendation in place by the WHO which advises you keep your time with headphones on limited to one hour per day and never raise the volume on your listening device over 60% of the maximum.
When you listen to your music using these advisories, you can hold onto your hearing. Two major factors are to blame for causing irreparable hearing loss – the length of time you listen to loud sounds and how loud those sounds are. Most conversations fall in the range of 60 decibels which won’t cause problems for your hearing. However, if you have construction happening nearby your home and you stand nearby an idling bulldozer getting ready to tear up the road, the decibel level is around 85. At that level, if you listened to it all day without protecting your ears, in just 8 hours you’d have permanent hearing damage.
Claps of thunder can clock in at 120 decibels which can damage your hearing in just 9 seconds. Sometimes, this loss is immediate while other times, it builds up over time. It usually isn’t noticeable in the beginning. It’s not until it’s too late that most people realize that the damage has been done.
Headphones can be good for your auditory health though, if you use them the right way. If you use over-ear or noise-cancelling headphones, these are the best because they make it easy to hear what you want to hear at much lower volumes. Most people wear headphones to drown out annoying surrounding noises, but if you can’t hear those unwanted sounds, you’re less likely to keep turning up the volume.
At maximum volume, headphones can damage hearing in only 4 minutes. As an adult, reading this is probably shocking. But your teen might not understand why you’re asking them to remove the headphones or keep down the volume. To this we say, show them this article unless they want to invest in hearing aids long before they’re old and grey!
The WHO is also encouraging the manufacturers of headphones as well as regulatory agencies of the government to step in and create listening devices that won’t permanently damage those using them. It’s not just headphones either. Loud concerts and clubs should also take steps to help their patrons preserve their hearing. Offering earplugs or having quiet rooms where one could take intermittent breaks from the loudness would surely help.
Until that happens though, you can take your hearing into your own hands. Turn down the volume and take off those headphones to give your ears a rest. And talk to your kids about it too. It doesn’t matter what type of music they’re listening to either. It’s the volume and duration that causes the problem, not the music style. When they go to concerts or clubs, get them to use earplugs or at least agree to stepping outside for frequent breaks. Otherwise, they won’t be ignoring you…they just won’t be able to hear you anymore.
This is why noise-cancelling headphones are an ideal option for everyone in the family. They help you refrain from turning the volume up too much and allow for pleasurable enjoyment of music without hearing damage.
How to Set the Safest Volume for your Headphones
Because most personal listening devices today can go up to 120 decibels which is like putting a rock concert in your ears, hearing loss can occur after a little over an hour of listening. If you can’t hear anything that’s happening around you, like a loved one asking you a question just an arm’s length away, it’s too loud.
Audiologists advise that you shouldn’t turn that volume up more than 60% of the maximum volume when you’re using headphones. And you shouldn’t listen for more than 60 minutes per day. The louder the sound, the shorter you should listen.
By this logic, if you turn up the volume to the max, you should only listen for 5 minutes per day. Of course, that’s no fun. That’s why so many people turn up the volume, especially when their favorite song comes on. But you can use tone rebalancing via equalizers to adjust the amplitude and enjoy music at a lower volume. Adjusting treble, bass, and high and low frequencies can help you listen without blasting out your eardrums.
With headphones, it depends on the type you’re using and your environment for setting a safe volume level. To test things out, you should turn up the volume of your headphones to your preferred level of listening. Take them off your ears and extend them in your hands out in front of you. If you still hear your music clearly, you need to turn them down. For the best results, you should conduct this test in a quiet environment.
If you are using open-back headphones, you should try to have a conversation with someone nearby. When you’re able to carry on the conversation clearly, you’re listening at a proper volume.
On busy streets though, many people tend to crank up the volume to tune out the environmental sounds. Those sounds are around 80 decibels, and thus, most are turning the volume up on their headphones to counter it. This is why noise-isolating earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones are ideal for removing unwanted background noises so you can enjoy that music without damaging your hearing.
When using headphones for professional applications, an audio limiter can be beneficial. It protects you from harming your long-term hearing. But do be advise that the same rules apply – 60 minutes a day and never at more than 60% of the maximum volume!
How to Know if You Have Hearing Damage
Sometimes, hearing damage isn’t permanent. It may only temporary. The only way to know for sure is to consult your doctor. Most people are prone to gradual hearing loss which accumulates over time, but this doesn’t tend to take effect until you’re much older.
Still, you can prolong your hearing by following the tips above. And if you’re wondering if you already have hearing damage, you should look for the following signs after being exposed to loud sounds – muffling of speech or difficulty in understanding certain words, having trouble following a conversation or asking the speaker to slow down their speech in noisy environments, or buzzing and ringing in the ears which is also known as tinnitus.
It’s even more troubling for children. Your kids may having hearing impairments if they hear a ringing, roaring, hissing, or buzzing sound in their ears. Also, if they can’t understand someone speaking to them in a noisy place, hear muffled sounds or feel like their ears are plugged up, or listen to music at higher volumes than they did before, you should schedule an appointment with their pediatrician immediately.
How to prevent damage
Back in 2010, there wasn’t yet enough evidence to pinpoint hearing loss to just listening to music. So a study was created to try to obtain it. Crafted online, the participants with personal music players were asked about how much loud music they have listened to, including the kind in clubs and concerts followed by a listening experiment.
Even though they couldn’t determine how loudly people that participated listened to music or how long, what is known is that those players can blast decibels at max of 95 to 105. In Oregon, the Dangerous Decibels campaign found that this evidence reflects that hearing damage can occur in just 15 minutes if you’re using regular headphones with your listening device set to the max volume.
When you listen to loud noises, they damage the tiny hair in the top of your hair cells located in your inner ear. Noises cause them to vibrate which changes the voltage in them. This in turn sends a chemical message from your nerves to your brain. Basically, pummeling these delicate hairs constantly in this manner will damage your hearing.
Now, if you’re a parent that’s concerned for your child’s hearing, how do you get them to, pardon the pun, hear you out? According to experts, you should ask them how much they like listening to music and let them know that if they keep listening at the volume they’re currently using, they will have a harder time listening to anything in the future.
There’s no reliable data on how soon they might find out that hard lesson though. One study in Scotland conducted on female jute weavers that were exposed to loud noise which was published in 1965 found that hearing loss occurred somewhere between 10 and 15 years.
But kids are kids, as we know. And if you want to ensure they keep the volume to a reasonable and safe level, you should buy them a pair of quality headphones. Cheaper versions don’t bring out the quality of sound very well, which is likely why your kids turn it up.
You should urge them to listen for shorter stretches but again, kids are kids and often they won’t listen to your well-meaning advice. But by getting them headphones that can bring better quality and keep them from listening too loud, that can help.
Additionally, evidence has shown that antioxidants like vitamin C can help prevent hearing loss. So while they listen, hand them a bowl of fruit to snack on just in case!
Headphones should never be turned up past 60% of the maximum volume, nor should they be listened to for more than 60 minutes per day. Experts call this the 60/60 rule, something you and your kids should follow.
Using quality headphones, particularly noise-isolating or noise-cancelling models, will allow you to enjoy your music without listening at damaging volumes. Invest in a pair for everyone in the household and it will be money well-spent!