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Earphones Can Cause Hearing Loss

by Suzanne Kantra on September 05, 2012

Researchers at the University of Leicester have witnessed for the first time the damage that noises over 110 decibels can cause to nerve cells—sound levels earphones can generate when turned up too high. Lead researcher Dr. Martine Hamann explains, "Nerve cells that carry electrical signals from the ears to the brain have a coating called the myelin sheath, which helps the electrical signals travel along the cell. Exposure to loud noises - i.e. noise over 110 decibels - can strip the cells of this coating, disrupting the electrical signals. This means the nerves can no longer efficiently transmit information from the ears to the brain." Resulting hearing problems can include temporary deafness and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.

The good news is that the researchers found that nerve cells' myelin sheathes can recover over of a period of about three months. These findings could lead to better means of prevention and a cure for some types of hearing loss.

Of course, it’s best if you never damage your hearing in the first place.

Most music players max out at about 103 decibels (dB), though some can reach sound levels of up to 120dB, which is like standing 100 feet behind the engine of a jet plane as it's taking off. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), more than a minute of exposure to 110 dB (ex. a chain saw) risks permanent hearing loss, as can 15 minutes at 100dB or prolonged exposure at or above 85dB.

If you’re not sure how loud your music player is, try turning it all the way up. If you can’t hear someone talking to you in the same room, the volume is too loud.

As a general rule, you shouldn’t turn the volume up to more than 75 percent of your device’s maximum level. For iOS devices, you can set a volume limit under the music settings.

Also, make sure your earphones fit properly; earphones naturally block ambient sound, so you won’t need to turn the volume up as high. Try holding the earphones in place to see if you’re getting a good seal. If you’re not, experiment with the tips that came with your earphones, keeping in mind that one ear may be slightly larger than the other and need different size tips.

And if you’re in the market for new earphones, look at the output decibel rating. Most will max out at around 100dB, but some offer sound limiting, especially earphones designed for kids; these earphones should only go up to 85dB.

Finally, take periodic 15 to 20 minute breaks when listening at high volume to let the inner ear recover.


Family and Parenting, News, Phones and Mobile, Headphones, Music and Video, Health and Home, Health & Fitness, Blog

Discussion loading


From Betsy Cadel on September 05, 2012 :: 11:12 am

Thank you so much for this article. I am hoping it puts an end to the “turn down your music” debate when my son is wearing his headphones and I can still hear the music.



From Marc Ziccardi on September 05, 2012 :: 11:12 am

PNY Technologies has created a line of Smart Sound IQ Headphones that are designed around this concept: Focused sound delivery with a broad dyanmic range, so you don’t have to crank the volume.



From C. Pentzer on September 05, 2012 :: 8:49 pm

In the field of audiology, we have long considered sound levels over 90 dB to be dangerous and the cause of permanent damage. As the wife of a farmer, I can personally testify to the damage that long term exposure to loud noise causes and the lack of recovery when exposure ends. I would question the length of time and true level of exposure in the study. It would be wise to err on the side of caution. Kids don’t take breaks from the sound, whether it be from headphones or their car speaker system. They don’t realize that when they lose their hearing, they will lose their people…the difficulty of communication when suffering from a hearing loss causes isolation. Simply speaking louder to a person with a sensory neural loss just makes the garble louder not more clear. So, in trying to enjoy their music now, the kids are robbing themselves of enjoying it later.



From Steve on September 06, 2012 :: 2:03 pm

Great advice about making sure that headphones/earbuds fit properly - it’s the leaking in of background noise that usually makes people whack the volume up.

I think manufacturers of music players need to take the matter into their own hands and reduce the maximum volume of their players. Most print a warning in the instruction book with their product, but who ever reads that? Music sounds great when its loud and people will always turn it up to 11, the manufacturers need to make sure they can’t.


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