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Can using headphones damage your hearing?

Listening to music too loudly can damage your ears, but the type of headphones and the amount of time you spend using them can also affect your hearing. Know how.

Hearing difficulties are a health problem in today’s society, mainly due to the constant presence of headphones , or earphones, in people’s daily lives. Using these devices to listen to music, but also to communicate via mobile phone, for videoconferences for professional reasons or to watch videos or play video games, means that many people, particularly young people, spend several hours a day with headphones on .

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2050, about 2.5 billion people will suffer from some type of hearing impairment and 700 million will need rehabilitation. Many of these problems are related to lack of hygiene or poor living conditions, but it is mainly the misuse of devices with headphones – in terms of volume and time of use – that the greatest threat to hearing health lies.

The auditory system depends on the balance between the middle and inner ear, from the eardrum to the cochlea – a small chamber in the ear filled with fluid – and to the auditory nerve. The vibration and resonance caused by incoming sounds allow us to understand language, different ambient noises or music. Excessively loud noise – but also certain sound frequencies – cause excessive vibration that can cause immediate or long-term damage, with difficult or even irreparable recovery.

Do you know that…

The WHO warns that 1.1 billion young people and adults, up to the age of 35, risk hearing loss by listening to music or consuming other types of entertainment with inadequate volume of sound, without safety.

What is the danger of headphones ?

Most equipment – be it a cell phone, computer or other device that serves as a sound player – emits a volume that reaches 120 decibels, far above a recommended exposure of the ears, which is situated at 85 decibels. Above this value, cochlear vibrations even cause physical changes, which can lead to a loss of sensitivity to sound. Normally, a night’s sleep restores balance in the inner ear after a concert or a trip to the club. As for regular abuse, the consequences can be slow, but noticeable in the future.

In addition to volume, exposure time also influences hearing changes. Some professions, such as working in factories or other environments with high noise from machines, often lead to hearing loss, and are still risk factors today. For 85 decibels, for example, the recommended maximum is eight hours a day, so it’s easy to imagine a young person or adult who uses headphones in transport, working, studying or in leisure moments, exceeding that time.

Do you know that…

One rule promoted to control the use of headphones is “60/60”. Do not exceed 60% volume when using headphones and for only 60 minutes at that level. Use at maximum volume is only tolerable for five minutes.

Are all headphones harmful?

There are two situations directly or indirectly related to headphones that have the greatest potential to cause harm. On the one hand, the noise from the outside environment: the usual tendency is to turn up the volume in places like public transport or even on the street, which causes greater pressure on the ears, and long-term hearing problems.

On the other hand, smaller headphones that “fit” in the ear – like the wireless models commonly used with smartphones – are more harmful, as they bring the ear closer to the sound output location. In headphones that cover the ear – pushing outside noise a little further – the sound is more dispersed, less directed towards the eardrum.

Signs to watch out for:

Hearing loss is usually slow and gradual – except in the case of trauma or another easily identifiable situation – and may be imperceptible or almost change. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the warning signs and consult your doctor, or look for an Otorhinolaryngology specialist , in case of:

  • Hearing unclear or muffled sounds
  • Not being able to perceive others in noisy environments
  • Difficulty hearing high frequency sounds
  • feel a buzz, hissing or hissing in the ear
  • Having oversensitivity to certain sounds
  • Needing to use the television or radio volume successively higher
  • Feel clogged ears

Other symptoms, indirectly linked to hearing, may indicate the presence of an ear infection. Recurrent ear pain, fluid coming out of the ears, and more sudden or prolonged difficulty in hearing are all signs to look out for.

How to prevent hearing loss due to headphones ?

Using headphones less time every day is one of the solutions to prevent hearing difficulties in the future, but there are others that can also be put into practice:

  • Reduce the volume to levels below the recommended limit
  • Wear headphones that cover the entire ear
  • Prefer equipment that has noise cancellation
  • Use headphones less time or take longer breaks

Due to the greater proximity of the sound to the ear and because they are constantly used by people, whether for leisure or professional reasons, headphones bring increased risks to the auditory system. However, the care to be taken with them must be the same for situations in which we are not using them. When watching television, listening to music through speakers, or car radio, the volume should be turned down. And the frequency of concerts or going to bars and other closed spaces with loud music should also be managed with care, so as not to have too long exposure to noise.

Healthy Doctor