Your earbuds are killing your ears

How to “rock out” with headphones without damaging your hearing? You can’t!

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this article from the Cleveland Clinic, Sandra Sandridge, PhD, Director of Clinical Services in Audiology, offers advice on protecting hearing when using ear buds or headphones to listen to music.

She first notes that hearing loss is 100% preventable, and this might be the only statement that is accurate. Unfortunately, the advice she gives to prevent noise-induced hearing damage is not.

This piece is like an article fifty years ago advising smokers on how to smoke safely. One can’t! There is no such thing as a safe cigarette, and there is no such thing as safe headphone or ear bud use.

Dr. Sandridge notes that many headphones and ear buds can be too loud–most personal music players put out 100-110 decibel sound and some player-headphone combinations can reach 120 to 130 dB–but she implies that 85 decibels is the sound level at which auditory damage begins.

That’s not the cutoff between safe and unsafe sound levels. It’s derived from the NIOSH recommended exposure level for occupational noise, an exposure level that doesn’t prevent hearing loss.

Even in children age 9-11, who haven’t been using headphones very long, auditory damage is already present.

The only way to prevent auditory damage is not to use ear buds or headphones. Or to use Dr. Sandridge’s language:

The only way to rock out with ear buds or headphones without damaging your hearing is not to rock out with them!

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.

The Philly Voice asks:

How do earbuds damage your hearing?

Philly Voice reporter Brandon Baker posed this question Linda Ronis-Kass, an audiologist at Penn Medicine Washington Square, “for an explanation of how listening to music at a high volume through earbuds can cause hearing loss — and potentially more.”  It’s an interesting read, particularly for those of you who like to pop in your earbuds and crank the volume up (don’t!!).

Thanks to Hearing Health Foundation for the link.

Have kids? Protect them from a preventable health threat:

The Starkey Hearing Foundation has launched Listen Carefully, a campaign to raise awareness about noise-induced hearing loss.  The campaign was started to combat a growing public health threat.  Namely, that “one in six American teens has noise-induced hearing loss from loud sounds.”  The Foundation wants to alert the public to this health threat and prevent a hearing loss epidemic.

Go to the Listen Carefully website to learn the facts about noise-induced hearing loss and find out how you can get involved to stop it.

Ear buds are killing your ears

The Chicago Tribune published a very informative article on How earbuds can wreck your hearing (especially for young people).  The article notes that:

A 2015 World Health Organization report found that nearly 50 percent of teens and young adults ages 12-35 are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from their personal music players. A 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association analysis found a significant increase in young people with hearing loss from three decades ago.

It’s well worth a read, particularly for the advice provided on how to know when sound is too loud and what you can do to limit harmful exposure.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link.  Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatments.

World Health Organization: 1.1 billion young people worldwide face the risk of hearing loss

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has posted an important article on hearing loss and young people: Millennials, the Deaf Generation?  The article states that a major cause of hearing injury to young people are music players, noting that the WHO “found that almost half of those ages 12 to 35 listen to their music players at unsafe volumes, while around 40 percent expose themselves to very loud events such as concerts.”  Among other things, the article suggests that using over the ear headphones over earbuds could help reduce the risk, especially when coupled with keeping the player’s volume at 60% of its range and listening to music for no more than 60 minutes at a time.

The concern about hearing loss in young people is also addressed by Shari Eberts, a hearing health advocate in her piece, “A Silent Epidemic. Teen and Young Adult Hearing Loss.”  Ms. Eberts writes that “[a] research study published in The Journal of American Medical Association in 2010 found that 1 in 5 teens had some type of hearing loss. This was significantly above the 1 in 7 teens with hearing loss measured 10 years earlier.”  She agrees that the use of earbuds is a significant cause for the alarming increase in hearing loss, but she adds that “the increased volume levels at restaurants, bars, sporting events, and other venues are also likely to blame.”  As someone who has genetic hearing loss Ms. Eberts knows firsthand about the frustration and sadness young people with hearing loss will suffer, noting that such suffering is avoidable since noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.  As in the ASCH article, Ms. Ebert recommends steps people can take to avoid hearing injury in the first instance.

This silent epidemic of hearing loss is not going to be silent for much longer.  One hopes that the increased attention on hearing loss among the young will motivate government, business, and individuals to work together to prevent the unnecessary deafening of an entire generation.

 

What if we could control what we hear?

Nuheara, a tech startup, has developed “innovative augmented ‘Hearables’ (ear buds) that allow people to control their hearing experience with the help of a smartphone app.

Sounds like disruptive technology, no?  But Nuheara is not alone.  Doppler Labs had a very sucessful Kickstart campaign last month featuring their app controlled earbuds, raising 253% of their goal.

The interest in this technology shows that many people would like to control what they can (and cannot) hear.  Good.  But it’s unclear whether Nuheara’s Hearables or  Doppler Labs’ Here Active Listening System will limit the sound output delivered directly into users’ ears.  I routinely see people on the subway wearing earbuds where the residual sound leaking from their earbuds is so loud that I can hear what they are listening to.  If I can hear it, they must be destroying their hearing.  Not today, of course, but years from now when it will be too late to stop the damage.  The delayed damage, coupled with the knowledge that the EPA determined over 40 years ago that a 24-hour exposure level of 70 decibels as the level of environmental noise which will prevent any measurable hearing loss over a lifetime,  makes government’s and industry’s failure to limit decibel levels on headphones and earbuds insidious.

I look forward to the reviews of Hearables and Here Active LIstening System.  Having a relatively mild case of hyperacusis, a common trigger of discomfort for me is the competing layers of noise in restaurants.  If the earbuds work as advertised and actively suppress background noise, I may be able to enjoy the conversation at my table without the discomfort caused by the cacophony around me.  That would be nirvana.

Ultimately, I hope that the release of this technology helps to fuel a discussion about noise pollution, in general, as well as the effect of headphones and earbuds on ear health.