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How To Prevent Hearing Loss From Headphones

By Jon McKenna
Reviewed by Jordan Glicksman, MD, FRCSC, MPH on February 09, 2021
You want to make good choices about what kind of headphones you buy, how long you listen, and how much volume is too much volume.

Everyone wants to maintain good hearing throughout life. To prevent hearing loss from headphones or noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), it’s smart to think carefully about what kind of headphones and earbuds you buy and how you use them.

“We are seeing hearing loss in people by their 20s and 30s to a degree once seen only among seniors in their 60s, 70s, and 80s,” Stephen Demari, AuD, director of business development and education at Chicago-based CaptionCall tells WebMD Connect to Care. “It’s estimated that the [headphones and ear buds] have caused hearing loss in an estimated one in five teenagers, which is nearly a third higher than during the 1980s and 1990s,” Demari says. 

Early Signs of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you may have a problem with noise-induced hearing loss if:

  • Speech seems muffled, as though your ears were plugged.
  • You have a ringing, roaring, or hissing in your ears.
  • You have a hard time hearing high-pitched noises like birds or a doorbell.
  • It’s difficult for you to understand conversations in noisy places like a restaurant.
  • You have to turn up the volume on the TV or radio.

Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

It’s important to know how much noise a person can take before it starts to become an issue for your hearing. “Noise at 85 decibels or below — about the volume of busy traffic — can be listened to for about eight hours without a risk of damage to hearing,” Dayna Edwin, MSc, BSc, RHAD, tells WebMD Connect to Care. Raise the noise level to just 88 dB and the safe time dips to four hours, according to Edwin.

Both Edwin and DeMari agree that “60/60” is a good rule of thumb. This means setting your headphones to no more than 60% volume and don’t listen for longer than 60 minutes before taking a break, ideally for the rest of the day.

Edwin and DeMari recommend protecting your hearing by investing in headphones with a noise-cancellation feature, creating a solid feature around your ear. Some models couple noise cancellation with active noise reduction (ANR) technology to block sound frequencies that are more harmful to your ears, according to DeMari.

Earbuds should be avoided because they sit closer to your eardrum, according to Edwin. If you insist on earbuds, look for a model that can completely seal your ear canal.

Hearing Loss Can Be Treated and Managed

In many cases, hearing loss is a treatable condition. It is worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment you or your loved one deserves. Don’t wait. Start today.