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Fact or Fiction: Can Headphones Damage Your Hearing?

Our ears are very complex and yet so unassuming. But when they are not working, you may wonder if there was anything you could have done differently to better impact your quality of hearing. One frequently asked question regarding hearing loss or preventing hearing loss is, can headphones damage hearing? The short answer is yes, but maybe not for the reasons you may think. If you think your hearing has been impacted or damaged by unhealthy listening habits, check out these ITE and BTE hearing devices.

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Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Our ears are designed to handle the sounds of our world, conversations, traffic, animals and natural phenomenon. But sounds that are too loud can damage our hearing. These high volume sounds can last only seconds or can be repeated or prolonged and have the same effect on our hearing. When the delicate structures in the inner ear are damaged, NIHL can be the result.

People of all ages can suffer from NIHL. But those who have jobs or partake in recreational activities that expose them to loud noises are more at risk than others. Those who encounter frequent gunshots, like shooting range employees and hunters, some types of musicians and construction workers are just some people who are at a higher risk of developing NIHL. But protective ear wear can help to reduce the likelihood.

What is Too Loud?

Sound is measured in units called decibels. Sounds that are 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA) or below are generally at safe levels and are unlikely to cause hearing problems. But sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing loss. This means that the louder a sound is, less exposure is necessary to do damage or cause NIHL. Your distance from the sound’s origin will also play a role in the impact it has on your hearing. Here are some common sounds we encounter and their volume in decibels.

  • Talking 60-70 dBA
  • Movie Theaters 74-104 dBA
  • Motorcycles and Motorsport Vehicles 80-110 dBA
  • Headphones at Max Volume and Concerts 94-110 dBA
  • Sirens 110-129 dBA 
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How Hearing Works

Hearing is an amazing and involved process that happens in nanoseconds. First, sound goes into the ear canal and vibrates the eardrum which vibrates three tiny bones. Then, the vibrations become fluid vibrations in the cochlea, causing hair cells to move and open stereocilia so that chemicals can turn those fluid vibrations into the electrical signals our brains translate into sounds we recognize and understand.

Once hair cells are damaged, they cannot be repaired. This damage is what causes NIHL. So, if your headphones are routinely at maximum volume, with prolonged use you can damage your hearing. Because all headphones aren’t created equal, you would need to check the maximum decibel output for your particular make and model.

If you are concerned with hearing loss and how it relates to your headphones or loud noises in general, it is a good idea not to keep your headphone volume up too loud or engage in extremely loud activities too often.

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