A frequently asked question

Can headphones or earbuds damage my hearing?

Posted Tuesday June 13, 2023

Yes! They most certainly can if the volume is too loud, or you listen for hours on end. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in five teenagers today, the earbud generation, will develop some form of hearing loss — which is about 30% more than in 2000.

What is too loud? If you can’t hear anything around you the volume is too loud. Most audio devices pump out up to 120 decibels (dB) — about equivalent to a rock concert or an emergency siren. And even sans earbuds at this level your hearing can be damaged in just over an hour.

And how long is too long? When wearing earbuds, the louder the volume the shorter the duration, and if you turn it up to the max (120 dB) you’ve just 5 minutes of safe listening before you risk hearing damage. A good rule is to limit your listening to 60 minutes total a day at no more than 60% of the maximum volume (72 dB). In comparison, normal conversation is 60 dB and a washing machine is 70 dB.

Noise cancelling earbuds and headphones are the safest to use. Listening in noisy places, such as on airplanes which typically are 80 dB, is a bit like the proverbial frog in hot water; those environments often lead to dangerously loud volumes. You naturally turn up your volume as background noise increases, and as your ears become accustomed to the volume you don’t notice it’s too loud.

You will find a quick guide on how to set the maximum decibels of a smartphone’s headphone audio for safe listening at www.theverge.com.

And take note, parents, there is also advice on how to set up a smartphone so your kids can’t change the settings.

If you missed it last issue, also check out our article Why the headphone generation are at risk of dementia. And remember, give your ears a break.


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