Noise from Improper Use of In-Ear Headphones — Earbuds, Buds, Earphones — May Put Hearing at Risk
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The iPod and things like it represent a major advance in personal portable sound systems that can be conveniently worn for extended periods. Included with the variety of sound systems is the variety of amplification systems that come in all shapes and sizes of headphones and earphones. These devices are potentially dangerous because, if used improperly, they can cause permanent hearing loss .
Personal sound systems have become so overwhelmingly popular it seems almost everywhere you go, you see people of all ages tuned into what they want to hear and tuned out of the world around them.
That said, what is the future cost for the luxury we have today to pump up the volume and listen to anything we want whenever and wherever we go, for how ever long we choose? What is the cost to the people that portable listening devices, especially in-ear headphones, are most popular with; namely, our youth?
A leading cause of hearing impairments used to be excessive noise exposure in the workplace, but today many young people are losing their hearing at alarming rates due to excessive noise exposure from portable stereo earphones.
The government through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has long known that noise pollution is one of the most common causes of hearing impairment in adults. During the past decade, the damaging effects of excessive noise pollution from portable stereo earphones have gained attention.
If you can hear the sound being delivered into a person's ear via headphones or earphones,
it indicates the sound is too loud and over an extended period can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Exposure to noise pollution, especially for younger people, has gone from huge boom boxes and car stereo speakers to sound delivered directly into the ear through headphones or earphones.
Headphones and earphones appear to be the most damaging. Since noise-induced hearing loss is a result of intensity (loudness) and duration of exposure, these devices may be capable of inducing a permanent bilateral sensorineural hearing loss — especially if they are used at a volume setting of four or above for extended periods.
Dr. David A. Schessel
Hearing specialist David A. Schessel, MD, PhD. chief of our Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Division. tells parents: "If you can hear the music your child/teenager is
playing through their headphones or earphones, it means the sound is too loud and can lead to permanent hearing loss."
The amount of hearing loss that one will suffer is related both to the volume, measured in decibels (dB), and the duration of time that one is exposed to the sound.
Sound at 85 dB or below is considered safe. Think about it!
If one is exposed to sounds greater than 90 dB for an average of eight hours per day without hearing protection, hearing loss will most likely result. As the volume increases, the safe time of exposure decreases.
Here are some loudness/time facts to consider (the unit of measurement is decibel ):
- At 95 dB. damage will occur after four hours of exposure per day. At 100 dB. damage will occur after two hours of exposure per day. At 105 dB. damage will occur after one hour of exposure per day. At 110 dB. damage will occur after 30 minutes of exposure per day. At 115 dB. damage will occur after 15 minutes of exposure per day. At 120-plus dB. damage occurs almost immediately.
Most portable stereo music systems produce sound in the range of 95-108 dB at level four and in excess of 115 dB at level eight.
For comparison, a soft whisper is usually measured at 30dB; busy traffic at 75dB; a subway train at 90dB; a gunshot blast at 100 dB, a jet plane at 140 dB; and a rocket launching pad at 180 dB. Sounds above 140 dB usually cause pain. If you have to speak in a loud voice to be understood, background sound is probably in excess of 90 dB.
Rock legend Pete Townshend. guitarist in the classic rock band The Who. says he has hearing loss from earphones. His "heavy metal" band was known for its earsplitting performances, but his hearing loss is not due to them. His hearing was irreversibly damaged by years of using studio earphones, and now he must take day-and-a half-long breaks between recording sessions to allow his ears to recover. Townshend puts it this way: "Hearing loss is a terrible thing because it cannot be repaired. If you use an iPod or anything like it or your child uses one, you may be okay. But my intuition tells me there is terrible trouble ahead."
Headphone wearers beware: ADJUST YOUR VOLUME! Click here for more information about noise-induced hearing loss, provided by Stony Brook Medicine University Physicians.