There are tons of benefits to owning a pair of headphones. Headphones deliver sound waves directly to the eardrum, which means that you get the best possible listening experience as well as a sense of privacy. Many people also regard their headphones as a fashion accessory.
It is, however, important to remember that the extensive use of headphone carries an inherent risk of damaging your ears. Many headphone users listen to music at top volume, despite the warnings that smartphones and tablets display when you go over a certain volume percentage. This can be dangerous to your ears, especially in the long-run.
Fortunately, you can lower your risk of hearing damage completely, even if you are a regular headphone user.
Keep reading to learn how you can use your headphones safely.
Anatomy of the Ear
Before we move on to discuss the effect headphones can have on your hearing, it may be worth taking a look at your ear and the way it works.
Your ear consists of three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The inner ear is also called the cochlea.
Sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through the ear canal to the eardrum, where it causes the eardrum to vibrate. This vibration moves a series of bones in the middle ear called the malleus, incus, and stapes.
The latter bone in this series, the stapes, hammers on the outer membrane window of the inner ear or cochlea, making the fluid on the inside move. The ripple effect in this fluid causes hair cells on the basilar membrane to ride the wave, which triggers the hearing nerve that is connected to the brain. This enables you to interpret what you are hearing.
Sound levels are measured in decibels (dB) (check out Wikipedia for description of how this works). To give an idea of the sound levels your ears are able to tolerate, consider this: the volume level 3 feet away from a speaker in a club is 100dB. Exposure to this level for longer than 2 hours can result in hearing damage.
Types of Hearing Damage
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs primarily when loud bursts of noise or regular exposure to consistently loud sound levels vibrate the malleus, incus, and stapes in the middle ear. This damages the hair cells on the basilar membrane and they can even die. Human hair cells don’t grow back when they die, which means that noise-induced hearing loss can be permanent.
Let’s take a look at the 3 types of hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
This is when the damage occurred to the mechanism that delivers vibrations to the cochlea. With this type of hearing loss, you will still be able to hear all frequencies, but your hearing will be much softer.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
A permanent hearing condition that can exist in only one ear. Sensorineural hearing loss typically results in lower sensitivity to loudness as well as frequency range.
Mixed Hearing Loss
This is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss that requires treatment of the sound conductive mechanism in the middle ear as well as a hearing aid.
When are my Headphones too Loud?
It can be difficult to realize that your earphones are too loud, especially if you are used to loud music or if you are in public spaces with a lot of people or traffic. To determine if your headphones are too loud, go to a quiet place where there is no background noise.
Turn up the volume to your usual level. Next, take your headphones out of your ears and extend your arms out in front of you. If you can hear the music from your arm’s length away, they are too loud and you may run the risk of incurring hearing loss after some time.
Responsible Headphone Use
The first step toward responsible and safe headphone use is being aware of the risks and refraining from regularly listening to music at volumes that are too loud.
The reason you may like to crank up the volume of your headphone is that it allows you to hear a wider frequency range. People are also more inclined to increase the volume if there are other loud noises in the background.
If your device allows for it, change your frequency set to a level that provides you with an optimal listening experience without you having to increase the sound. If you have open-back headphones, remember that if you can’t have a conversation with someone while wearing the headphones, they are too loud.
If you wear headphones for professional purposes such as in recording studio, it may be worth your while to invest in an audio limiter, as you may be particularly susceptible to hearing the loss in the long run.
Seek Medical Help
Another important precautionary measure is to seek immediate medical help if you experience symptoms like constant dizziness, pain in your ears, or sudden hearing loss in one or both of your ears.
If you seek help at an early stage, a doctor may be able to act or prescribe medication to prevent permanent noise-induced hearing loss. If you regularly use headphone, keep an eye out for these symptoms to ensure lower the risk of damaging your ears.
This is why professional DJs use good quality headphones and ear protectors to ensure they don’t suffer long-term damage.
Quality headphones are generally regarded to be safe and less prone to cause hearing damage. Higher end headphones typically delivers frequencies at audible and quality levels and you will find it easier to maintain safer volumes.
Noise-canceling headphones feature technology that cancels background noises out so you can hear music at lower and safer levels clearly. Noise-cancelling technology is perfectly safe for use, and you can use them all day long without ever experiencing problems.
In the same way, Bluetooth headphones are also completely safe for use as their radiation levels are too low to pose a risk.
It okay to be an audiophile. Regular headphone use is completely safe, as long as you make sure that they fit comfortably and that you keep their volume at safe levels.