Tag Archive: headphones

Headphone use causes hearing loss

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.

 

Warning labels work

Photo credit: Aeveraal licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Consumers want relevant information about products they buy, and warning labels work. That’s the message inherent in this New York Times report on food warning labels for salt, fat, sugar, and calories in Chile. Chile has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. With health care costs for obesity-related medical care soaring, the government decided to take action and began requiring black octagonal warning labels on the front of food packages. The laws also banned junk food sales in schools, and prohibited television ads for unhealthy food between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Of course, the big multinational food companies who market candy, snacks, sodas, and fruit juices protested and lobbied against the legislation, but it passed and was signed into law.

Guess what? Junk food consumption is down 25% in Chile, and other countries are contemplating passing similar legislation.

I am convinced that if warning labels were required on personal listening devices and accessories like earbuds and headphones, people would use them less. I would suggest the following: WARNING: USE OF THIS DEVICE CAN CAUSE HEARING LOSS.  But I’m sure other wording might be more effective.

It’s obvious that the device manufacturers, like the junk food vendors, don’t care about consumers. All they care about is profits. It’s up to governments to protect their citizens, as Chile has done. That’s their job.

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.

Are there headphones for children that won’t hurt their ears?

Photo credit: jonas mohamadi from Pexels 

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This blog post from Stock Daily Dish posts a 2017 review of “the best headphones for kids that won’t hurt their ears.” This a big lie. Why not pair the headphones with the best cigarettes for kids that won’t give them lung cancer?

Because just as there really isn’t a Santa Claus, there are no cigarettes that won’t give kids lung cancer, and there are no headphones for children that won’t hurt their ears.

Headphones using the 85 decibel (dB) volume limit are not safe for children’s hearing. The 85 dB volume limit is derived from the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Level for occupational noise. That level doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss. And it’s not scientifically valid to extrapolate from studies of hearing loss in adult male workers to toddlers as young as three. As pediatricians often remind their internal medicine colleagues, a child is not a small adult.

A Dutch study showed auditory damage in children age 9-11 who used headphones. And at that age, they couldn’t have been using the headphones for very long!

Parents and grandparents should be talking with children, playing games with them, reading them books, telling them stories, not parking the kids in front of a video player with headphones so the children don’t bother them!

And if they buy headphones for their little darlings at this time of year, they should at least be aware that they may be condemning them to needing hearing aids later.

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.

Are we deafening our children?

Photo credit: M Pincus licesned under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This review of headphones designed for toddlers and children states that the headphones have “a toddler-safe 75 decibel maximum, a hearing-health friendly 85 decibel maximum, and a louder 94 decibel maximum in-flight mode.” The reviewer goes on to state, “[w]e highly recommend that parents set the volume no louder than the 85 decibel mode for optimal hearing safety.” These statements document a complete misunderstanding of the dangers of loud noise for hearing and of children’s health. These headphones may be safer for children’s hearing than headphones without volume limits, which can put out 100-110 decibels (dB), but they are certainly not safe for children’s hearing.

To my knowledge, there are no studies of noise exposure and hearing loss in children. But children are not small adults, and noise exposure standards derived from studies on adults cannot be applied to them.

The 85 dB standard for safe listening is derived from the 85 A-weighted (dbA)* recommended exposure level for occupational noise. It is not a safe noise exposure for the public. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure limit to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for a day, and even that is probably too much noise exposure to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Let me state my thoughts as clearly as I can: A-weighted decibels typically measure 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted decibels. The 85 dBA noise exposure standard does not protect all exposed workers from occupational hearing loss over a 40-year work career, even with provision of hearing protection devices, strict monitoring, time limits for exposure, and regular audiograms, backed up by OSHA inspections and workers compensation law. Noise loud enough to deafen factory workers or heavy equipment operators over a 40-year career just isn’t safe for a little toddler’s delicate ears, which must last a whole lifetime, into her or his 80s or 90s.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour exposure to 85 dBA noise because one hour at 85 dBA averages out to 70 dB for the day, even if there is zero noise for the other 23 hours, which is impossible.

In 2018, I was able to get the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority to take action agains Amazon because it was falsely advertising that headphones using the 85 dB volume limit were safe for children’s hearing. The Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices has declined to take enforcement action here, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission declined a request to require warning labels about possible auditory damage on headphones and personal music players. And the American Association of Pediatrics has also declined to issue advice for parents about noise exposure as strong as its recommendations against sun exposure.

Am I falsely alarmed? I don’t think so. A Dutch study in 2018 showed that children age 9-11 who used headphones already had signs of auditory damage, compared to those who didn’t.

Besides, children should be talking with other children, or with parents, grandparents, and others, not listening to music or the soundtracks of their screen devices. A recent study showed that screen time is correlated with brain changes in the tracts involving speech.

My advice to parents: no headphones and limit screen time. Protect your children’s ears and talk to them about why.

*A-weighting adjusts noise measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

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 best headphones for children? None!

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This post on the Parentology.com site discusses the best headphones for children in 2019. I disagree strongly. The best headphones for children are none at all! Why? Two reasons, one for auditory health and one for the child’s social and intellectual development.

First, for auditory health, headphones using the industrial-strength 85 decibel noise exposure level as a “safe” volume limit for a child’s tender ears isn’t safe. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled again Amazon advertising these headphones as safe for hearing because they’re not.

Second, allowing a child to isolate him or herself with headphones, first while watching a video on a device and then when listening to music when older, doesn’t allow the child to interact or communicate with others. And for the older children, the parent has no idea what the children are listening to.

Audiologists already report seeing younger patients with hearing loss and tinnitus instead of the senior population they are used to caring for.

And an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss and other auditory problems appears to be certain in the near future.

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.

Two thumbs up for noise-canceling headphones

Photo credit: Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Geoffrey Morrision, writing for the New York Times, casts his vote in favor of using noise-canceling headphones when traveling, and I’ll add mine, too. The only downsides of noise-canceling headphones is that the over-ear ones are a little bulky, they are yet another thing to pack and carry, and it can be hard to find a comfortable head position with them on when trying to sleep. But in return, one has much greater quiet when flying.

Aircraft cabin noise is largely low-frequency noise, from engines and airframe, and most noise-canceling headphones do a good job of reducing low frequency noise.

I often use them on longer train rides, too, where again the predominant noises are low frequency ones.

The best noise-canceling headphones are expensive, of course, but if you are a frequent flyer, they are worth it.

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.

Protecting children’s hearing

Photo credit: Tim Parkinson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’m an internist and was board-certified in geriatric medicine so I’m not sure I’m qualified to write anything about children, but I think being a new grandpa grants me that authority. One thing I have learned is that children’s ears are delicate, and they need to last a lifetime, so it’s important to protect children from loud noise.

At last year’s Super Bowl victory, the world saw Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles carrying his infant daughter wearing her cute pink ear muff hearing protection.  Smart move. The Quiet Coalition doesn’t endorse products, but there are now many ear muff hearing protection devices available for infants, toddlers, and young children.

I suggest that parents and grandparents look for products with a noise reduction rating of 22 decibels or greater. The NRR is measured according to standards developed by the EPA, but the actual reduction in noise reaching the ear drum is less than the rated noise reduction. Just remember that the higher the NRR, the greater the hearing protection.

And start using ear protection early. If children get used to ear muffs for noise when they are infants, they are likely to develop lifelong habits of protecting themselves from environmental noise exposures.

Should you allow your child to use headphones to listen to music? I think these are a bad idea. First, parents can’t monitor either content or sound volume. Second, even with volume limits, headphone use is likely to cause auditory damage. That was the finding of a Dutch study that showed auditory problems in children age 9-11 after headphone use. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it’s far better to interact with one’s child or grandchild than to use audio or audiovisual content as a babysitter. Read the kid a book!

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.

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.

More evidence that headphone use causes hearing loss

Photo credit: Patrick Pielarski licensed under CC by 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This isn’t a scientific study, but a news report from Ireland. An audiologist recommends that parents limit children’s headphone use to one hour daily. She notes that, “ten years ago, around 5pc of people aged under 45 were fitted with hearing aids. Now, 23pc of our hearing aids are for people under 45.”

That’s a shame. Hearing aids are costly, and even the best are a poor substitute for preserved natural hearing. It takes decades for noise-induced hearing loss to become bad enough that people are willing to use hearing aids.

A Dutch study earlier this year found auditory damage from headphone use in children age 9-11, and the damage only gets worse over time.

Parents–and indeed everyone–should limit headphone use, or better yet just put the headphones in the drawer.

One doesn’t need a continuous audio track to life! But if you do, for your own sake, for your ears, please turn down the volume.

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.

Don’t use headphones while running

Photo credit: Peter van der Sluijs licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

NPR host Peter Sagal, author of “The Incomplete Book of Running,” makes his case against running with headphones. Sagal talks about how he always used to train and run races wearing headphones but gradually stopped wearing them.

There is support for Sagal’s sound evidence. Too many people turn up the volume enough to drown out ambient noise, which usually means the volume is high enough to damage hearing. I have been unable to find any published evidence that music helps improver performance, except, perhaps, in rhythmic activities.

I don’t run anymore–my orthopedic surgeon said I had grade III microtears and would need a knee replacement if I did–but I walk early almost every morning. I don’t listen to music as I walk because I walk in the street, so I need to listen for cars. But as the sun rises, I hear the birds and the squirrels, reminding me of nature in the city.

And before the sun rises, before the birds start to welcome the day, I just luxuriate in the quiet and my own thoughts.

You might try that, too.

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.