Noise-Canceling Headphones: Are They Safe?

The use of headphones or earbuds to listen to music from portable listening devices has skyrocketed in the last decade. When used correctly at safe listening levels, they will not do harm to your hearing. Unfortunately, many people are using them incorrectly and permanently damaging their hearing with these devices. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 50% of young people (ages 15-35) are listening to music from personal listening devices at levels that are unsafe (100 decibels or more). The structures of the ear are very sensitive and can start to show damage after as little as 14 minutes at noise levels of 100 decibels or more. Due to headphone use and other exposure to dangerously loud noise, approximately 12% of children ages 6-19 have noise-induced hearing loss and about 26 million adults (ages 20-69) have some degree of noise-induced hearing loss (in the U.S.).

Safe listening practices are important for people of all ages, but are especially important for children and young people. Noise-cancelling headphones can help. Some young people not only listen to headphones for the music, but as a way to “block out” noise in their surrounding environment. But most headphones are not designed to “block out” noise and therefore the volume is cranked up to unsafe levels. This is especially true for earbud-style speakers in particular. Earbud-style speakers are also notoriously poor at transmitting the bass of the music efficiently, which may cause users to also turn it up to hear better.

There are a few styles of headphones that may help these issues. They may better “protect” your hearing along with allowing you to hear your music at safe listening levels. One option is noise-isolating headphones, which creates a seal around the ear to make a physical barrier between the ear and outside sounds in the environment. Another option which is growing in popularity is noise-cancelling headphones. They work by using inverse sound waves to cancel out the incoming sounds from the environment. They work best at canceling out low-frequency sounds like the rumble of traffic or engines but are not as efficient at blocking higher-frequency sounds like conversations.

If you don’t choose to invest in one of the above types of headphones, there are some “rules” to follow to ensure safe listening to any kind of headphone (including noise-canceling). Most experts recommend not listening at more than 85 dB for no more than 8 hours a day. Practically, that translates into never listening to music at more than 60 percent of the device’s maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes continuously (known as the “60/60 rule”). On most personal listening devices, you can also go under the “Settings” and set a maximum volume. This is especially helpful for parents to ensure that their children are not listening too loudly.

It is possible to enjoy music through headphones. Just keep the volume down at a safe level and be aware of any change in your hearing. For more advice on which noise-canceling headphones might be a worthwhile investment, please see this link: https://www.reviews.com/noise-canceling-headphones/.

If you have any further questions or if you suspect a hearing loss, please don’t hesitate to call HearMD at (856) 602-4200 to make an appointment or to speak to one of our hearing healthcare professionals. We are committed to better hearing through better living by providing individualized comprehensive hearing healthcare services in South Jersey.

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