Tag Archive: headphones

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.

85 decibel headphones aren’t safe for children

Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Many headphones are advertised as safe for children’s hearing, using the occupationally derived 85 decibel (dB) standard as the volume limit without giving an exposure time.

When I contacted them in December 2015, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices declined to take action about this false advertising. Earlier this year, I learned about the UK Advertising Standards Authority, a quasi-governmental agency serving approximately the same role in England and Wales. I filed the same complaint with ASA, on behalf on The Quiet Coalition to protect children’s auditory health. On October 31, 2018, the ASA issued a ruling that Amazon’s advertising of these headphones as safe for children was indeed false advertising.

A study in the Netherlands earlier this year showed that even in children age 9-11 years, headphone use was associated with an increased rate of auditory disorders.

Parents and grandparents would be well-advised not to allow their children or grandchildren to listen to music or videos using headphones, with or without the 85 dB volume limit.

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.

What are the best workout headphones?

Photo credit: CherryPoint licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What are the best workout headphones? In my considered opinion, none. This review of workout headphones mentions noise-induced hearing loss, but misuses the 85 decibel (dBA, A-weighted decibels) occupational noise exposure as the safe listening limit.

There is a common belief that music improves athletic performance, and the louder the music the better the effort. But I have been unable to find any scientific articles supporting this belief, unless it is music with a particular beat or rhythm which, for example, might help a runner keep a steady pace.

On the other hand, the dangers of noise for hearing loss are supported by decades of scientific work and thousands of articles in peer-reviewed journals.

So skip the headphones–you can be very fit without losing your hearing.

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.

Headphones for kids: What you should know

Photo credit: ExpectGrain licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This post at SoundGuys discusses choosing headphones for kids. The author discusses a variety of considerations, including many that lead me to my opinion about headphones for kids:

Headphone use should be limited to those old enough to understand the dangers of hearing loss. Giving a younger child a pair of headphones–volume limited or not–is like giving a toddler a beer or a 9-year-old a pack of cigarettes. No one does that.

It takes years to decades of noise exposure to produce hearing loss as measured by standard audiometric techniques, but the reports of hearing loss at very early ages associated with headphone use have already begun to appear. A Dutch study in June 2018 reported increased hearing loss another auditory problems in children as young as 9 to 11, compared to those who didn’t use headphones to listen to personal music devices.

I’m not sure exactly when the idea evolved that everyone, including toddlers as young as 3, needs to entertained by audio or visual material for almost every waking hour, but I can guarantee that generations of children were raised to adulthood quite successfully without these devices. Perhaps headphone use should be regulated like driving, smoking, or drinking, each of which has an age limit at which the behavior is allowed. In the U.S., the age requirement for driving varies from 15 or so to 18 depending on the state, 18 for smoking, and 21 years old for drinking.  Laws are different in Europe and Asia, but to my knowledge there are no laws or regulations restricting headphone use or personal music device use anywhere in the world.

In the old days–whenever that was, but certainly up to a decade or two ago–children either entertained themselves by playing with blocks or toys or dolls, or were entertained by friends, parents, and others. As children got older, they entertained themselves with coloring books, and then by reading. At a meal or waiting in a line or when traveling, parents and children interacted, whether it was the parent making up a story for the toddler, or the slightly older child telling the parent or grandparent a story, or looking at and talking about what was outside the window of the car, bus, train, or airplane. Or people read books. Now I see families sitting in a restaurant with each person wearing earbuds, looking at a smart phone or listening to some content on it, instead of interacting with each other.

This can’t be good for personal and social development. It can’t be good for developing ties among family members and others. And I can guarantee that it is not good for hearing–headphone use in children will cause hearing loss in adults.

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 prevent hearing loss when using headphones

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Here is another article about the dangers of using headphones for hearing. I disagree with the author’s statement that “[t]here’s nothing inherently dangerous about using headphones.” That reminds me of statements in the 1950s and early 1960s that asserted there was nothing inherently dangerous about smoking cigarettes.

I think headphones and earbuds are inherently dangerous and shouldn’t be used except for noise-cancelling headphones used in noisy situations such as aircraft cabins.

Very few headphone users worry much about the sound volume when listening to music or a podcast or book, and the natural tendency is to turn up the volume enough to be able to hear what one is listening to. There is no meter on the personal audio device to let one know what the audio output is in decibels. And there is no audio dosimeter installed on most personal audio devices, be they MP3 players or smart phones, to let the user know the time-weighted average sound exposure that day or week from the device. Even if one has this type of dosimeter–several are reportedly in the development stage–they don’t measure all noise exposure, so they may give a false sense of security.

The other quibble with this article, from the UK, is that it uses the UK and EU occupational noise exposure standard of 80 decibels as a safe noise exposure level. The UK standard is technically 80 dBA, which is safer than the 85 dBA standard used in the U.S., but it is not a safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 dB for 24 hours, and even that may be too high.

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.

Headphone volume may cause harm to hearing

Photo credit: Kaboompics .com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Here is yet another report, this time from Baylor University, that headphone use may cause harm to hearing.

I agree with everything stated in the report except for the assertion that 85 decibels is the dangerous sound level. This standard is derived from occupational noise exposure levels, and in 2016, NIOSH reiterated that this is not a safe noise exposure level for the public.

And headphone use may be different because the sound source is only millimeters away from the ear drum, with the external auditory canal being even shorter in children than in adults.

Personally, I would advise against the use of headphones and ear buds, period.  If you insist on using them keep in mind that if you can’t hear ambient noise when listening to content or music using headphones or earbuds, the volume is too high and is almost certainly causing hearing loss.

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.

It’s surprisingly easy for headphones to damage hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Popular Science discusses noise-induced hearing loss caused by headphone use.

If headphone volume is high enough to block out noise from traffic or others speaking, it’s probably loud enough to cause hearing loss. If you use headphones or earbuds, that’s an important thing to know.

But also know that the sound levels cited in the article by audiologist Tricia Ashby at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association aren’t safe. The 85 A-weighted decibel standard she mentions is an occupational noise exposure standard that even with limited exposure–8 hours a day, 250 days a year at work, for 40 years in the factory–allows 8% of workers to suffer “excess” hearing loss.

Noise is different from other occupational exposures, e.g., toxic solvents or ionizing radiation, because we are exposed to noise all the time, all day long, all year long, for an average whole lifetime now approaching 80 years.

As I wrote in the American Journal of Public Health, the only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for 24 hours. I discussed the reasons why even 70 decibels is probably too loud in this blog post for the AJPH. Well, just two hours exposure to 85 decibel noise makes it mathematically impossible to average below 70 decibels for the day.

Ms. Ashby is correct that a recent study reported a declining prevalence of hearing loss in American adults, but the Centers for Disease Control reported that 25% of American adults have hearing loss, many without any occupational noise exposure.

I have been predicting an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss in young people using headphones, and now the preliminary evidence is beginning to appear in scientific journals.

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.

Loud music listened to on headphones is causing hearing loss in children

Photo credit: Gordon licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My main noise issue is restaurant noise, but I have learned about other noise issues, too. When I figured out that the oft-cited 85 decibel standard is an occupational noise exposure standard, and not a safe noise exposure standard for the public, I sent emails and letters to the audiologists quoted in media reports. When I realized that 85 decibels was used as a safe volume limit for headphones marketed for toddlers as young as 3 years, I called this to the attention of pediatricians, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Centers for Disease Control. My efforts, sadly, have thus far been unsuccessful.

My worries were based on theoretical concerns. There was no way that loud noise without a time exposure limit could be safe for children. Now this report documents that the hearing loss I was worried about isn’t a theoretical concern any more. Namely, the news article writes about a study conducted by Erasmus Medical Centre in Holland, in which scientists “studied more than 5,000 children aged nine to 11-years-old over three years, found one in seven of the youngsters had suffered some hearing loss.”

The study is preliminary. The hearing tests were done as part of a study of normal child development in Rotterdam, but not specifically to determine whether personal music player use caused hearing loss. More than 5,000 children were enrolled in the study, but complete hearing tests were available for only about 3,000, and personal music player use was assessed by parental report. Despite these limitations, the study found that 14% of the children, now just under 11 years old, had some type of hearing impairment.

That said, one must ask what is causing this early onset hearing loss. The researchers believe the cause may be children’s use of headphones to listen to portable music players.

Maybe this will spur regulatory authorities into action. At the very least, parents and grandparents can take these headphones away from their little darlings, and give them instead the gift of continued good hearing.

The problem with headphones isn’t just hearing loss. As a parent and soon to be grandparent, I know that talking with children and listening to what they say–almost from the time they are born–is one of the most important ways to teach them words and language, to establish a relationship with them, and to educate them about the world. Giving the child a personal music player or video player and headphones can occupy the child for hours–it’s certainly easier than carrying books and reading them to the child, or giving the child a paper and crayons, or playing with dolls or trucks or Legos–and it allows the parent to watch or listen to his or her own cellphone or personal electronic device, but it probably isn’t the best thing for the child, either.

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’s Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association board from 2015-2018.