People listening with earbuds and headphones is a common sight whether on campus, while commuting, or as leisure. In fact, some of us are guilty of turning up the sound so loud that others can hear it despite wearing their own listening devices. We also spend a lot of time using them, which may cause irreparable harm.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1.1 billion people, from ages 12 to 35, are at risk of hearing loss due to listening to increased volumes of music, further heightened by the extensive use of smartphones and other portable devices. In fact, the incidence of hearing damage has increased over the past ten years, according to WHO.
Unfortunately, once damage to hearing has occurred, it cannot be reversed.
The human ear functions to convert sound waves to electrical waves. Those electrical waves are then transmitted to the brain, which then makes sense of the sound we hear.
Ear damage can occur for many different reasons, though they often center around three main reasons: how intensity of the sound, how close a person is to the source of the sound, and how long a person was exposed to the source of sound.
Noise-induced hearing loss is a term which describes an impairment in hearing due to continued exposure to loud sounds. How loud or intense sound is measured by the unit decibels. For example, a whisper is about 30 db, a normal conversation is about 60 decibels, and sirens are 120 decibels. Listening to sounds less than 75 decibels will not normally do any harm. However, listening to sounds more than about 85-90 decibels over a long period of time can lead to permanent hearing loss.
To put these statistics into perspective, if a person sitting next to you can hear the sound from your listening device, the volume is too loud. Another way to test the intensity of volume is to set the device at your normal volume and hold the device at arm’s length. If you can still hear the sound, the volume is too high.
Another aspect to consider is the impact of different listening devices. Interestingly, earbuds are more harmful to ears than headphones. Because of their design, earbuds are more intrusive as they directly enter the ear canal. This positioning can increase the decibel level of the sound you are hearing.
Even though hearing loss is permanent, there are ways to prevent or at least lessen the damage to ears. To prevent hearing damage, doctors advise wearing larger headphones that cover the ear instead of earbuds, which are more intrusive and directly enter the ear. The WHO recommends using noise-canceling headphones, which may prevent users from turning up the volume too high. Moderation is also key. People should aim to listen for at about sixty percent of the maximum volume for no more than sixty minutes a day and no more than five minutes per day at maximum volume. In general, the louder the noise or sound is, the shorter the time a person should listen.