How to prevent hearing loss while wearing headphones?

Photo credit: Sound On

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The title of the Health Digest article is “How to prevent hearing loss while wearing headphones” without the question mark.

I had to add the question mark, though, because trying to prevent hearing loss while wearing headphones is like trying to prevent lung cancer or cardiovascular disease while smoking a cigarette. It’s just impossible.

Most people don’t know that while smoking one cigarette is unlikely to cause cancer, even one cigarette dramatically increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Similarly, a one-time use of headphones or earbuds probably won’t cause auditory damage, but if you are a regular listener, auditory damage is probably inevitable.

Here’s why: To be able to hear the music you want to listen to, or to understand the words of a podcast or audiobook, whether using headphones or earbuds, you have to turn up the volume enough to overcome ambient noise. Unless you are listening in a quiet room, and perhaps even then, that means the volume has to be above 80 decibels, and probably higher. And that’s probably sufficient to cause auditory damage.

A study of Dutch children ages 9-11, done not to study hearing specifically but rather as a longitudinal study of child development, found that children who used personal listening devices already had evidence of hearing loss and other auditory damage. Those children can’t have been listening for very many years, and probably not for many hours a day. Imagine what a few hours of listening using headphones can do over time to adult listeners’ hearing.

The tips Health Digest provides may reduce auditory damage, but I don’t think they will prevent it.

Our advice? The only way to prevent hearing loss while wearing headphones is not to be listening to anything while wearing them!

If you’re a headphone or earbud user, you may want to listen to your usual content in a quiet room, to see how loud the volume is.

Because if it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your auditory health is at risk.

My short answer: Don’t wear headphones!

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