Dr Girish Raheja, Senior ENT consultant at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults around the world are at risk for hearing loss from unsafe use of audio devices or from exposure to dangerous sound levels. Most people have spent a fair amount of time rocking out to loud music. Listening to loud music through ear buds connected to devices or at music concerts can cause hearing loss.
The inner part of the ear contains tiny hair cells (nerve endings) which change sound into electric signals. These signals are then being carried by the nerves to the brain which recognizes them as sound. These tiny hair cells can easily get damaged by loud sounds.
How Much Sound is Safe?
Noise level is measured in units called decibels. Sounds less than 75-80 decibels are safe for the ears, even after long and repeated exposure. You can be exposed to this controlled level of noise all day and it won’t cause any damage. However, sounds above 85 decibels are said to be clinically unsafe. The louder the sound, the shorter the acceptable length of exposure time. A 100-decibel sound is only safe for a maximum of 15 minutes.
Why does Loud Noise Damage Your Hearing Power
Hearing loss occurs in four ways: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, mixed hearing loss and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder. Noise-induced hearing loss is a kind of sensorineural hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when your inner ear gets damaged. In the case of noise-induced hearing loss, most of the damage affects the cells of tiny sensory hairs in your inner ear (stereocilia). The electrical signal that your auditory nerve sends to your brain becomes altered when those cells get damaged or die.
Noise-induced hearing loss can be acute or severe, and it can be temporary or permanent. Noise can damage the auditory nerve. Early damage may not show up on the hearing test, but can create a hidden hearing loss that may make it difficult for the patient to understand speech in noisy environments.
Right Way to Listen to Music with Earphones/Headphones On
Earphones do not block outside sounds. Users generally increase the volume level to block outside noise. Using noise-cancelling earphones may help to keep the volume down as one can easily hear the music. However, earbuds are much more dangerous than over-the-ear headphones because they sit very close to the eardrum. It’s safer to opt for the kind that sit over your ears when possible.
Some tips for using the headphone:
- Decrease the amount of time you use headphones.
- Take regular breaks of at least five minutes every hour to give your ears a rest.
- Don’t go over the ‘safe’ volume level that appears on your phone’s screen when you change the volume.
- Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones – not only will these block out the noise around you, they also mean you won’t have to turn up the volume to a unsafe level to hear your music properly over background noise.