In the last 2 decades, there has been an approximately 30% increase in the number of teens developing hearing loss, which now sits at 20% of all teens. Doctors say that the main reason for this increase is the excessive use of headphones by teenagers throughout the day.
As a parent, a teenager, or just someone who likes to use headphones, it is extremely important for you to know your limits. Many people only realize the ill effects of using headphones for a long period of time after they develop tinnitus (ear ringing), or worse, partial hearing loss.
In this article, we will be explaining how long you should use headphones in a day, and why.
How do hearing problems arise?
Before understanding how excessive headphone use can cause hearing problems, it is important to understand how sound can cause hearing loss in the first place. The inner canal of our ears has small cell clusters present in them. These clusters are responsible for transmitting the sound from our ears to our brains.
These sensitive hair-like structures are prone to permanent damage as a result of long exposure to loud noise. Loud sounds can also damage the nerves that connect the ear to the brain. Hence, hearing loss can be a result of damage done to either the cells or the nerves that transmit this sound to the brain.
Everyday Usage of Headphones
Nowadays, using headphones has become a part of our daily routine. They are used for a number of things, ranging from listening to music, taking calls, listening to podcasts, watching movies, and a number of other day-to-day activities.
As teenagers or working millennials, headphones are almost an indispensable commodity in our lives. They are great for noise cancellation in order to form a conducive environment to work or study in.
Unsurprisingly, one of the most well-paying jobs of our generation, that of Youtubers or streamers requires headphones as an absolute necessity. A number of other careers, such as musicians, studio workers, and the like, mandatorily require headphones too.
However, there are a number of drawbacks associated with the usage of the above-mentioned commodity.
Hearing Loss Due to Headphone Usage
Everything comes at a cost, and so does the usage of headphones, something that may sound so basic. Hearing loss as a result of excessive headphone usage is a combination of two factors- the loudness of the sound and the time period during which the sound plays. So how long and at what volume should you listen to sound through headphones to prevent ill effects?
Many experts suggest a 60/60 rule, which is widely accepted as the norm. The rule basically says that you should use headphones for 60 minutes at 60% volume. There is scientific reasoning behind this rule.
Our ears can hear sounds ranging between 0-140 decibels (dB). However, hearing a sound as loud as 140 dB can cause permanent hearing loss or at least considerable damage to our ears. Hence, even though our ear CAN hear sounds of 140 dB, it doesn’t mean that it should.
For reference, sound at a concert can go up to 120 dB, which is extremely loud. You may notice that your ears start ‘ringing’ after you attend a concert. This is a sign of temporary damage to your ears. However, being exposed to such loud sounds for an extended period of time frequently can even lead to permanent damage.
Scientists suggest that the suitable range of sound for our ears is between 60-85 dB. 60% volume on our electronic devices is about 80-85 dB.
The idea is that the volume that the period of time you should listen is inversely proportional. The louder the sound, the lesser time you should listen to it. Listening to sound over 85 dB for longer than an hour has the potential of causing damage to your hearing. But how do you figure out if the sound is too loud?
How to test if the sound is too loud?
Usually, if the sound is excessively loud, you will know it almost instantly. For example, at a concert, you are not able to hear the person next to you, unless they speak loudly or rather shout right into your ear. Essentially, if you can’t hear someone at an arm’s length from you, you need to reduce the loud sound drastically as soon as possible.
When you’re on your headphones, you can hear people at an arm’s length from you, and if you can still hardly hear their sound, the volume needs to be reduced.
Symptoms of Hearing Damage
Now that you know that loud sounds can cause hearing damage, you may be wondering if it’s too late for you and your hearing is already damaged. There are ways of knowing if your hearing has started to deteriorate long before the advent of old age, but the only way of knowing for sure is through a doctor.
However, if you frequently hear a ringing, roaring, hissing, or buzzing sound in your ear, it can be a symptom of hearing damage. This is commonly referred to as tinnitus, and you should definitely see a doctor in that case.
Alternatively, if the sounds you hear seem to be muffled, as if your ears are plugged, for an extended period of time, it can be a sign of hearing loss.
Many people with hearing loss require a higher volume to hear, be it the television, or another person during a conversation. So, if you often find yourselves increasing the volume consistently on the television to be able to hear it, you should see a doctor.
Similarly, if you notice someone constantly asking you to repeat yourself, speak louder, and are unable to understand you clearly when other people are, they may require professional help as well.
However, it must be reiterated that only a medical practitioner can confirm any hearing damage that may have been caused. The above are merely possible indicators of hearing damage, and should not be considered as diagnosis.
How to prevent hearing damage from headphones?
Sounds scary, right? Something you use so frequently can be so harmful to your body. However, do not worry. There are steps you can take to ensure that there is no damage done to your hearing from headphones.
Usually, people opt for listening to music on a higher volume to drown out the background noise. However, to make your lives easier, you can just use noise cancelling headphones instead. This way, you won’t have to increase the volume in order to hear the sound better.
What exactly are noise-cancelling headphones? Check out this article to know more: Noise Canceling vs Noise Isolating Headphones– What’s the Difference?
Sometimes the quality of your headphones can be a problem as well. Cheaper headphones have worse quality of sound, which forces you to turn up the volume just to be able to hear clearly. For your and your family’s ears’ sake, invest in better-quality headphones. They will be more durable, and you won’t have to increase the volume just to be able to hear the sound clearly.
Alternatively, and more effectively, decrease the amount of time you use headphones in a day, and if it is imperative for you to use them, make sure the volume is below 60% of the maximum volume. At a stretch, try not to use headphones for longer than 60 minutes. Adhering to the 60/60 rule mentioned above can help decrease the chances of permanent hearing loss.
Keep taking breaks and avoid using headphones for long stretches of time. Ideally, after every hour, take off your headphones and take a short break. Prolonged sound in your ear causes ear damage, so taking breaks will help combat that.
Lastly, Vitamin C is known to be great for your hearing. Try to incorporate foods rich in Vitamin C, such as oranges, in your diet, to combat the damage done by headphones. Additionally, you can try Vitamin C supplements, if you’re not a fan of the Vitamin C-rich foods.
Make sure to visit an audiologist or otolaryngologist for any additional advice you may require regarding safe headphone use to keep your ears healthy!
Earphones vs Headphones
Many people ask if wearing earphones instead of Headphones would decrease the damage done to your eardrum. In short, the answer is no.
Earphones usually go right inside your ear, decreasing the distance between your eardrum and the sound can cause even greater damage as compared to headphones.
Additionally, headphones cover a larger surface area over your ear, while earphones are put all the way inside your ear. The larger surface area distributes the sound around your ear and adds distance between the sound waves and your ear drum. This way, your eardrum does not get directly affected by the sound.
Between headphones and earphones, while the former is still harmful, it is less harmful as compared to the latter. If you have a choice, go for headphones over earphones.
And if you don’t quite understand the difference between headphones and earphones, click on the link to know more: Headphones Vs Earphones: Which Device is Best?
Other Problems Caused by Headphones
Besides causing damage to your ears, headphones are associated with a number of different health issues that you should be wary of.
If you’re someone who has sensitive skin, you should choose to wear earphones rather than headphones. The bacteria trapped in headphones can cause acne and other skin-related problems fairly quickly.
Headphones can cause bacteria and sweat to get trapped, and the heat and moisture make it a breeding ground for a range of different bacteria. Ensuring hygiene while using headphones throughout the day is easier said than done.
The headphones can turn into a vehicle for bacteria and dirt to enter your ears. When you leave headphones lying around, they accumulate quite a bit of dirt and bacteria. Hence, when you place them over your ears, this bacteria can enter your ears and cause problems.
Headphone usage can also make your ears prone to ear infections. Using headphones frequently facilitates the build-up of ear wax. Since headphones cover your ears, they hinder the automatic process of ear cleaning that your ears are programmed to do. The ear wax cannot be pushed out due to this reason, and the build-up makes your ears prone to infections and reduces the quality of hearing.
Choose the Right Headphones- Our Top Picks
We now know reducing the amount of time you wear headphones in a day is key. However, when you NEED to wear headphones for long periods of time, and there’s no way around it, what do you do? Well, you pick the right headphones so that hearing damage is minimized. Here are our top picks!
Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones
The Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones are the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market, by a margin. The way this benefits you is that with noise-cancelling technology, the disturbing background noises around you will be minimized. This means that you can use headphones at a low volume with great sound quality.
While these headphones are on the more expensive side, they are definitely worth it. These are equipped with the best noise cancellation technology in the market right now, which can drown out highly damaging high-frequency sounds rather easily. You can definitely go for other noise-cancelling headphones, but these are definitely the most recommended.
V-Moda Over-Ear Noise-Isolating Headphone
The V-Moda Over-Ear Noise-Isolating Headphones are great for noise cancellation but on a budget. They are considerably cheaper than the Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones and do a decent job at noise cancellation.
Further, over-ear headphones in general are more recommended than in-ear earbuds and cause less damage. The memory foam on the ear cups of these headphones helps fit your head and ear better, which can significantly reduce the amount of noise that enters your ears, resulting in listening at a lower volume.
NuraLoop Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds
While over-ear headphones are better for protecting your ears from damage, we understand if you just cannot part with your earbuds. Here, we present to you the best earbuds, in our opinion, for preventing hearing loss.
The NuraLoop Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds come with an app that lets you personalize your listening experience, to make the most out of it. This results in maximum satisfaction without having to blast high-frequency sounds.
Moreover, these headphones do have noise cancellation modes and can do a great job at helping you listen clearly even at lower, safer volumes. They are averagely priced, and definitely give you value for money. Lastly, they are wireless and come with Bluetooth technology, for easy use!
How many hours a day should I wear headphones?
There is no particular number of hours a day for which you should wear headphones. However, keep in mind the 60/60 rule, which says that you shouldn’t use headphones for longer than 60 minutes at 60% of the maximum volume. After every hour that you use headphones, remember to take a break and limit the number of hours a day you use headphones.
Can I use headphones for 8 hours?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly suggests that you should only use headphones for 8 hours if the volume is limited to 85 dB. Usually, 60% of the maximum volume in our devices is about 80-85 dB. Regardless, using headphones at a stretch for over 2 hours is not recommended by audiologists.
Are headphones harmful to the brain?
The usage of headphones will not damage the brain, but it can damage the nerves that transmit sound to the brain. Hearing loud sounds, above 110 dB, for a prolonged period or time, or frequently, can damage the protective layer in your ear, causing partial or complete hearing loss. So, even though your brain is not directly affected by loud sound, use headphones cautiously and keep the volume below 60% as much as possible.
Your ears are an extremely important organ, and hearing is one of the most cherished senses. Now that you know the extent to which negligent usage of headphones can cause damage to these senses, be careful and exercise caution whenever you put on headphones. If you feel like your hearing may be damaged already, please consult an audiologist for further diagnosis.
Are your ears hurting after using headphones for a long period of time? Click on this link to find out why- Why do my ears hurt while wearing headphones?