by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
This report from the Sydney Morning Herald discusses headphone use causing hearing loss. It uses a term I hadn’t heard before–“headphone culture”–to describe the ubiquitous use of personal audio systems to provide a continuous soundtrack for daily life. There is mounting evidence that noise exposure in everyday life is loud enough to cause hearing loss in a majority of urban dwellers, and that exposure is exacerbated by using headphones or earbuds to listen to music or podcasts for hours a day.
The only quibble I have with the article is that it cites the occupational noise exposure levels of 80 or 85 decibels as being the safe sound threshold. This just isn’t true. Noise exposure levels that don’t even protect all exposed workers from noise-induced hearing loss certainly aren’t safe for the public!
The problem with listening to a personal audio device using headphones or earbuds is that to overcome ambient noise so one can hear what one is listening to, as when walking down the street or riding a bus or subway to work, the volume has to be turned up to dangerously loud levels.
For parents, the problem with children using headphones so they can listen to music or watch a video without disturbing others is that the parents can’t monitor the sound level or what their children are listening to.
The article discusses safer headphones with a volume limit, but my conclusion is that listening to music or podcasts or audiobooks using headphones or earbuds is as bad for the ears as smoking is for the lungs and heart.
Most volume limiting headphones use the occupational 85 decibel recommended exposure level as the volume limit and that simply won’t prevent hearing loss.
There is no safe cigarette, and headphones or earbuds with a volume limit may be safer than those without a volume limit, but they are certainly not safe.
Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.