Are Earbuds Harmful to Hearing?

In today’s high tech world, we are surrounded by noise from our personal devices. It comes at us from all sides even when we’re not hooked up directly to our own devices. In many ways, the ever-present devices enhance our lives; but leads to this question: Are earbuds harmful to hearing?  Research is pointing in that direction, as these recent headlines suggest.

Hearing Loss Becoming a Problem in Local Teens

Loud headphones are making us prematurely deaf

Nearly Half of Teens Showing Potential Signs of Hearing Loss

Wearable Fatigue? Stick It In Your Ear

So how loud is too loud then? If the person next to you can hear what is coming from your headphones, it’s too loud. Today’s earbud-style headphones are different from older headphones that cancelled out more noise. Earbuds fit directly into the ear, streaming sounds directly into the ear canal.

The concern with today’s earbuds is the decibel levels at which they’re being used. One Wichita University audiologist found that most students are listening at an alarming 110-120 decibels! – which can cause permanent hearing loss after little more than one hour.  As many teens are connected to technological devices around the clock, this can lead to long term consequences as hearing loss is permanent.

The number of teens with hearing loss is jumping to unprecedented numbers. Studies published in the Journal of American Medical Association clearly show the rise.

  • Hearing loss prevalence in teens 12-19 in 1994 was 14.9%
  • Hearing loss prevalence in teens 12-19 in 2006 was 19.5%
  • Hearing loss prevalence in teens 12-19 in 2014 is yet to be determined

The studies did not conclude that the rise in hearing loss is due to today’s earbud use, but the headlines above seem to point that way. Adults need to be aware of what healthy listening volumes are and let their children know the devastating repercussions of not hearing that wisdom.

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