Why Airpods And Other Earbuds Are Bad For Your Hearing
Headphones, in and of themselves, are not a risk. You could listen all day at a low-to-middle volume without health worries. It’s only once you start listening to loud volumes for sustained periods of time that they can start damaging your ears.
And the type of headphones that are the most likely to cause hearing problems are these earbuds. A 2007 study found that adults turn up their music louder when they’re wearing earbuds than over-the-ear headphones. It also discovered that users wearing earbuds were more likely to turn up their volume to compensate for background noise (in this case, street noise and “multi-talker babble”) than people wearing over-the-ear headphones. A further study, from 2011, expanded on that research, finding that teens wearing earbuds turn their volume up to overcome background noise, some to harmful levels, more than those wearing noise-isolating, over-the-ear headphones.
Brian Fligor, an audiologist who has studied the impact of earbuds on hearing damage, says that people typically listen to their earbuds about 13 decibels higher than the background noise. If you’re wearing headphones or earbuds in a school classroom, where the background noise usually runs at about 60 decibels, and you turn your music up to 73 decibels to compensate, that should be fine for most people’s ears. But if you’re in a noisy coffee shop, where background noise is usually about 70 decibels, or on an airplane, where the noise typically reaches 80 decibels, things get dicey. “When the background noise induces [people] to listen 13 decibels louder than the background and the background is 70 decibels, now we’re talking about potential to do damage,” he says.
Public transportation is “the number one time and place for you to be exposed,” says Fligor. Noise level on subway platforms and inside trains is 94 decibels, and 20 percent of those spaces exceed 100. Add 13 decibels from turning up your earbuds, and we’re at anywhere from 107 to 113 decibels, yet people can only safely be exposed to 100-plus decibels for 15 minutes a day.
You can see the problem.
It’s likely that earbuds are contributing to widespread hearing damage among younger people. According to the American Osteopathic Association, approximately one in five teens today suffer some form of hearing damage, a rate that’s 30 percent higher than it was 20 years ago. The World Health Organization estimates that over “1 billion young people” are at risk of hearing loss, primarily from listening to music on headphones or earbuds.
Adults, meanwhile, have experienced a leveling out in hearing loss — but societal factors indicate that that rate should have gone down, not stayed the same. “We’ve outsourced a lot of our manufacturing jobs and that’s where a lot of noise-induced hearing loss was coming from,” Fligor says. Disregarding hearing loss among those serving in the military, which is on the increase, people are generally much healthier than they were in past decades, and therefore, “our rate of hearing loss should be going down, and we know that it’s not,” says Fligor.
It’s a whole lot cheaper to protect your hearing than it is to try to remediate your hearing,” says Fligor. “Hearing is outrageously precious. People take it for granted, they lose it, and then you can’t get it back.”
Dear readers, what do you think about this?