Woman wearing headphones.

From colors, to shapes, to size, to functionality, there are many factors to consider when choosing headphones. But what most people don’t realize is that while they are debating whether to get huge earmuffs or tiny buds small enough to hide in your ears they are also making a decision that can permanently affect their hearing. Pricier models may offer you clearer sound or be wireless, but will they really harm your hearing?

How Common Is Headphone Hearing Loss?

When you were a kid, hearing loss among children and teens was very rare. You may have known one or two children in school during your whole school career who suffered from it. But something has changed in our schools. Hearing loss is becoming much more common among young people in their teens and 20’s. Today, 20% of teens already have noticeable hearing loss. That’s 30% higher than it was in the 1980’s.

While there may be other factors like loud concerts or riding motorcycles, researchers believe that headphones are a huge part of the problem.

Almost every kid these days has a pair, and most adults do too.

In the 1980’s, some kids had headphones and were banging heavy metal music through them. But the usage wasn’t as high as it is today when music devices can fit in your hand.

How Do Headphones Cause Hearing Loss?

Normally, if music is loud, you won’t sit right next to the speakers. Distance reduces how loud music is and some of the damage caused by it.

Headphones bring the sound right to your ear. If the volume is at 85 decibels, you’re getting a full 85 decibels straight into your ear canal. Eighty-five decibels will cause permanent damage within about 8 hours of exposure. If the music is high pitch like a violin or soprano voice, damage can happen faster.

Some headphones can get up to 120 decibels. This is enough to cause instant, irreversible damage. The sound waves, literally shake your inner ear’s delicate hearing mechanisms to pieces.

How to Choose & Use Headphones with Hearing in Mind

Here’s what to consider.

Throw Away that Old Walkman

If by some chance your 20-30 year-old Walkman or Discman are still working, throw them out. Headphones/devices made in the past 10 years or so have a lower max volume than those of the past.
Today’s devices are still too loud, but the lower max volume will help protect your hearing.

Limit Long-Term Exposure to Headphones

If you listen all day at work or home, you’re probably doing damage that will get worse with time. Give your ears a break once in a while.

Ideally, you should never listen to headphones for longer than 60 minutes without a 10-15 minute break.

Noise-Canceling Headphones Offers Best Experience with Less Damage to Hearing

Because noise-canceling headphones block out outside noise, you can listen at a lower sound level. Your audio will not have to compete with external sounds, and you’re less likely to damage your hearing with these headphones.

Never Try to Drown Out Noise

If you don’t have noise-canceling headphones, never try to drown out a noisy environment. You’re certain to cause damage to your hearing by increasing exposure to loud noises.

Restrict Earbud Usage

People love earbuds because they’re so discreet. But these are even worse than over the ear headphones because they bring the sound right into your ear. There’s no buffer at all.

Keep Volume Below 60%

Determine how loud your headphones can be and never turn them up past that 60% mark. Set your limit to 60% for no more than 60 minutes. That’s easy to remember. If you must listen longer, lower the volume accordingly.

There are some experts who say 80% for 90 minutes is okay, however they may be using less powerful headphones. When it comes to your ears, erring on the side of caution is the way to go.

Always Use Both Earpieces

Some people will walk around with only one earbud in the ear, and the other earbud hanging. This can make your music sound artificially low, because you hear more of the street traffic, voices, etc. Always use both earpieces to make sure the volume is set appropriately.

Consider Getting a Bluetooth Hearing Aid

A Bluetooth hearing aid works with your smartphone, TV and other compatible devices. if you need or already have a hearing aid, this is generally a better option. Hearing aids help regulate how sound enters the ear to ensure it’s clear but not too loud.

If you’ve been using headphones for years, regardless of age, it’s important to get a hearing test. Don’t wait. Find out where you stand and take steps to keep your natural hearing for as long as possible.