Tag Archive: headphones

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.

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.