Today, it’s not usual to see people sporting an earbud or two when out and about. Headphones are an integral part of everyday life for many of us. Whether you’re at the gym, joining an online work meeting or listening to a podcast during household chores, chances are you’re using headphones multiple times a day.
While headphones are a convenient way to privately listen to music or take a phone call, they can also pose a potential risk to your hearing. “Headphones can contribute to irreversible sensorineural hearing loss, a type of hearing loss,” says Mary Van Wieren, AuD, board-certified audiologist at Holland Hospital.
As a doctor of audiology at Holland Hospital, Van Wieren shares expert advice to help ensure you are safely using your headphones without exposing yourself to potential future hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss.
People with noise-induced hearing loss can suffer symptoms as early as their 20s or 30s. These symptoms include a ringing noise or a full feeling in the ears. People experiencing hearing loss might find themselves always turning up the volume on the television or asking people to repeat themselves.
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should schedule an appointment with an audiologist right away. It’s important to note that noise-induced hearing loss is not reversible.
How can I prevent hearing loss when wearing headphones?
An easy way to see if your headphone volume is too loud is to hold them out at arm’s length. “If you can still hear the audio, that's definitely too loud,” says Van Wieren. Another tip is to make sure that when you’re wearing your earbuds, you can still hear what’s going on in your environment.
To prevent hearing loss when wearing headphones, it’s important to pay attention to the volume as well as how long you’re listening. As the volume increases, it becomes less safe and listening time should become shorter and shorter.
According to Van Wieren, if the earbud volume is kept at 85 decibels, you can safely listen for up to 8 hours. For reference, a conversation at a normal volume is about 60 decibels. Listening to volume at 100 decibels – a level that headphones can easily reach – is safe only for 15 minutes.
You can use your smartphone to guage the decibel levels in your headphones. If you have an iPhone, you can check the decibel levels in your phone’s settings. If you have an Andriod phone, you can download a third-party app that will guage the decibel level in your earpods.
To make sure you never unknowingly turn your headphone volume up too loud, Van Wieren recommends limiting the total volume to 85 decibels in your smartphone’s settings.
Where can I learn more?
Holland Hospital Audiology has an expert team of certified audiologists to help people communicate, work and stay connected with others and the outside world. For an appointment, call (616) 393-2190 or visit hollandhospital.org/audiology.