With many of us working — and learning — from home, we spend more time than ever with headphones or earbuds plugged into our ears.
As laptops, smartphones, and tablets have become a more significant part of our world, a number of conveniences have arisen. Making plans, getting directions, buying things, and communicating with one another is easier than ever. Of course, several health concerns have come along with this technological shift, and an important one of note is the increased risk of hearing loss.
Since iPods, and then smartphones and tablets, increased, the practice of plugging these devices into our ears for hours on end has become a routine. During the pandemic, we, and our children, are on our computers using headphones or earbuds throughout the day. “If used improperly, these devices can certainly pose a risk of hearing loss, as well as tinnitus,” says Tricia Scaglione, Au.D., Director of the Tinnitus Program at the University of Miami Health System. “I’ve seen research on children that have hearing loss comparable to 50-year-olds because of overuse or misuse of their personal listening devices.”
Our electronics have become almost essential in many facets of life. So, what can we do to protect our ears from this risk? The first, most obvious step, says Brianna Kuzbyt, Au.D., an ear, nose, and throat expert at UHealth, is to keep the volume at a reasonable level. “If it’s painful or distorted, then it’s way too loud,” she says. “Many devices now have more advanced sound settings, so you can set limits on the overall volume and even receive notifications if the volume is set too loud.”
One of the essential steps for safe listening is to limit outside sounds and distractions. That way, you don’t have to turn up your headphone volume as often, says Dr. Kuzbyt. “When audio or video chatting, make sure your family knows it’s time for your call so that you can focus with limited noise and distractions at a safe volume,” she says. “Also, if the person speaking is hard to hear, you can ask them to adjust their microphone or their microphone settings so that you can hear and understand them more easily without having to turn your volume up too loud.”
Choosing the right listening equipment
Over-the-ear headphones might be preferable to the earbuds that come with many phones and tablets, says The Hearing Health Foundation. Earbuds channel sounds directly into the ear canal, which can increase the risk of hearing loss. They can also push ear wax deeper into the ear canal and further obstruct your hearing.
While they are bulkier and less convenient, over-the-ear headphones may have less risk due to the distance between the sound source and your ear canals. However, the same rules apply regarding volume. If they have noise-canceling features, that’s even better. Noise cancelation allows you to lower the volume level without worrying about outside distractions.
Regardless, you should keep your and your children’s device volume at 60% or lower, whether you’re on a video call or listening to music. When the sound reaches 85 decibels or higher, there is an increased risk of permanent hearing loss.
Learn more about the risks related to loud noises
There are several online resources available to learn about how loud noise can affect your hearing, says Dr. Kuzbyt. The website Dangerous Decibels has fun, interactive ways for kids to learn about hearing loss and listening at a safe volume level. The American Academy of Audiology also has educational resources available on its website, Turn It to the Left.
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
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