Rocking out to the latest hit song while you work out or turning up an episode of your favorite show on your next flight could be damaging your hearing. Here’s how to know when loud is too loud.
Whether you’re listening to music on your wireless headphones or binge-watching a favorite TV show on your laptop with your earbuds in, if you have the volume cranked too loud, you could be harming your hearing. In fact, 1 in 5 teens have some form of hearing loss, according to the American Osteopathic Association, which is a 30% increase from the 1980s and 1990s. Many experts suspect headphones and earbuds may be largely to blame for the increase in noise-induced hearing loss.
What causes noise-induced hearing loss?
Listening to something too loudly for too long causes noise-induced hearing loss. Smartphones can produce sounds up to 120 decibels — that’s equivalent to the sound level at a rock concert or nightclub and it’s louder than a motorcycle revving or traffic on a busy street.
A sure sign that your hearing ability is temporarily damaged is ringing in your ears when you take the headphones off, or if the world around you sounds muffled when you remove your listening device. However, even if you don’t have any immediate aftereffects, you may still be doing damage to your hearing.
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Don’t hang up your headphones
You don’t have to give up listening to music or watching movies on your headphones or earbuds all together. Just make sure you don’t turn up your sound more than 60% maximum volume. Not sure what 60% is? The general rule of thumb is that you should be able to hear conversations going on around you even with your earbuds in and music on.
You should also limit the time you use your headphones to no more than 60 minutes. Need a handy way to remember the guidelines? It’s called the 60-60 rule (60% max volume for no more than 60 minutes).
Headphones that cover your ear are considered to be safer for your hearing than earbuds that pipe sounds directly into your eardrums. These types of headphones are also better at drowning out background noise, which means you can turn the volume down and still not be disturbed by conversations going on around you.
What if the damage is done?
Immediately after you’ve been exposed to loud noises for too long of a period, try to give your ears a 24-hour “noise diet”, where you avoid loud sounds as much as possible. This will give your ears time to recover and quell any ringing or other aftereffects.
Unfortunately, once it occurs, noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible, so turn the volume down now to protect your hearing. The Hearing and Balance Center at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles offers every aspect of care from diagnosis and treatment to assistive training and physical therapy for hearing loss. Our specialists develop customized treatments, both nonsurgical and surgical, to help improve communication and restore equilibrium to our patients’ lives.
If you are in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care from some of the top otolaryngologists in the world, be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting ent.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.
by Anne Fritz