How to Use Headphones Safely – The Ultimate Guide

Protect yourself and your devices.

As the old saying goes “Health is wealth”. Whether you are watching movies, listening to music, stuck in traffic with all those noises, a random guy across the street screaming at you, and other similar situations that you may face throughout the day and your lives, put a strain on your ears.

Many of us don’t realise that the gift of hearing that most of us possess is capable of being damaged quite easily. To make sure that we can maintain our hearing ability at its soundest, here are some of the things you should know about and follow.

(Take note that the information given here is not a replacement for medical expertise, if you are concerned about your health it’s always best to consult a real doctor.)


How do we hear Sound?

First, we need to understand that sound is just vibrations in/of the air. They are called ‘soundwaves’.

how to use headphones safely
Anatomy of the Human Ear (Source – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_ear)

The three major areas that your ear consists of are the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. The sound waves pass through the outer ear and this causes vibrations at the eardrum.

These vibrations are then amplified by the eardrum and three small bones of the middle ear as they move towards the inner ear. Once there, the vibrations pass through a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear called the cochlea which contains fluid/liquid.

In the cochlea, connected to nerve cells are thousands of little hairs that further translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are then sent to your brain. Your brain converts those signals into sound.

Here is a video demonstrating this exact process.


What are the Potential Causes of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can happen due to a number of reasons. According to several medical institutes the causes of hearing loss could be;

  • Ageing
  • Constant exposure to loud noise (occupational, recreational)
  • Listening to audio at a loud volume for long periods
  • Damage to the inner ear
  • A gradual buildup of earwax
  • Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumours
  • Ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation), etc.
  • Using faulty equipment that needs repairing

How Headphones Affect your Hearing

To bring to light what was was said earlier, vibrations of the air and how they interact with the workings of our inner ear is what enables us to perceive sound.

When we listen to music that directly enters our ears, these vibrations are much more close and strong, not to mention they’re also absorbed in rapid succession. This may cause the tiny hairs in our cochlea to lose their sensitivity over time.

Which to say the least, can cause a load of problems like inability to retain balance which in turn cause dizziness, etc. People, including musicians, also experience hearing loss in varying intensity from years of exposure to noise at work. It’s crucial to start protecting your hearing when you’re young. It’s difficult to bring back lost hearing ability that you may have had when you were younger.

Here is a demonstration of how ears help with balancing:


Noise Level Chart

The chart below will show you sound levels of various things, which is calculated in Decibels (dB). Sometimes the dB(A) unit is used, where ‘A-weighted’ takes into account the changing sensitivity of the human ear to several frequencies of sound.

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Noise level chart (Source – www.webmd.com)

Noise Level of Musical Instruments

Sound (in dB)

Musical Instrument

60

Regular Piano

70

Fortissimo Singer (at 3ft. / 1m.)

75-85

Chamber Music in a small auditorium

85-103

Violin

85-111

Flute

106

Timpani and Bass Drum rolls

120-137

Symphonic Music Peak

120

Amplified Rock music

150

Rock music peak (close to speakers)

You might have a problem with hearing damage over time if you attend a lot of music festivals, raves, concerts, etc. There are some musical instruments that are capable of generating damaging levels of noise however since music uses different levels of noise this situation doesn’t occur very often.


Sound Effects WHO
Sound Effects in dB (Source – www.who.int)

The charts above and below show how long it is safe for someone to be exposed to different noise levels without wearing any hearing protection.

How Do We Hear The Hearing Mechanism Explained hearing loss decibel time graph 1100x729 1
Danger at Decibel Levels (Source – www.ishootshows.com)
Music that’s being played at volumes louder than 85 decibels for lengthy periods can cause permanent hearing loss.
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Are Bluetooth/Wireless Headphones Safe

Your concern on whether Bluetooth technology is safe or not is perfectly justified. As we develop new technology we encounter a new set of challenges too.

Yes, they are safe.

Research conducted by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer shed light on the connection between phone use and cancer, they found that there is no connection between the two. The amount of radiation from the phone shows to have no impact on increasing the likelihood of cancer.

If that doesn’t ease your mind then make note of this, Wi-Fi emits similar signals Bluetooth signals are relatively weaker compared to them. Yet these signals don’t cause you any bodily harm or put your health at risk. As and when they test these from longer durations of time they may find new and varying results but for now, this is all we know.


Tips to Preserve your Hearing when listening to music:

  • Consider using headphones instead of earbuds/earphones. A lot of experts in this field, known as audiologists, recommend over-the-ear headphones because they don’t get as close to the eardrums when compared to earbuds/earphones, so they aren’t as loud. Don’t push your earbuds in too far as this could be damaging.
  • Avoid listening to music at 85 decibels (dB) or higher.
  • Make sure that the volume that you’re listening to your music doesn’t exceed 70% of the maximum volume possible. Turn the music down if other people can hear your headphones.
  • Don’t listen for too long. Using the 60/60 rule will help you accomplish that; listen at 60% volume for 60 minutes, then take a break for at least 30 minutes. This gives your ears a chance to rest.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones can be a great choice if you listen to music in loud environments since you don’t have to play your music as loud to drown out the noise.
  • Use different headphones/earphones for different activities and in different environments.
  • If you have kids, consider buying earphones with parental controls, such as volume-limiting capabilities or limiting their use the old fashioned way.


You must take precautions as early as possible when you’re young because as you get older hearing damage gets worse. As it is rightly said “prevention is better than cure”


Tools that Help Reduce Noise and Protect Hearing

sound level meter
Sound Level Meter (Source – mextech.co.in)

#1- A Sound Meter or decibel meter is a tool that helps you measures the sound levels in decibels. Using this device with the chart above will let you measure if your headphones are too loud for you.

Foam Ear Plugs 1100x1100From 3m.com
Foam Ear Plugs (Source – www.3m.com)

#2- Ear Plugs are little, tubular HPD(Hearing Protection Devices) that can either be made to individually fit your ear which makes it reusable for sustained use or mass-produced, making it easily replaceable and disposable.

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Ear Muffs

#3- Ear Muffs are a much more long-lasting than earplugs and they are simpler to put on and take off. Ear Muffs are essentially two ear cups connected to a headband. This device creates a seal around your ears that reduces incoming noise.

Choosing the right HPD(hearing protection device) for you that meets all of your requirements while decreasing noise disturbances can surely help lower the hazard of hearing loss.


How to Secure your Kids’ Listening Safety?

As mentioned previously, you can just limit the time that they’re allowed to listen to music and the volume too. Another solution is, you could invest in a set of headphones that let you control these things. There are headphones developed specifically that lets you control the volume and set limiters to your kids’ usage. This way, they’ll never be at risk of exposure to dangerous volumes.


Hygiene Tips

For users that use in-ear headphones/earphones, and also earbuds make sure that you don’t use someone else’ set of earphones as they contain bacteria and this may cause infections that you don’t want to have to deal with.

So as a general rule of thumb, it’s best to keep your earphones to yourself and not share them with anyone.
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Conclusion

The fact is that as long as you understand the importance of using your headphones/earphones/earbuds responsibly, you need not worry too much. Just remember that continued exposure to higher volumes is damaging.

Consider listening to higher quality music at a lower volume.

If you’re listening to music for many hours, whether you’re at work or in a setting where it’s noisy, be conscious that your ears require a break and time to recover. Infrequent exposure to loud noises probably won’t do you any permanent damage, just make sure that you aren’t overloading them with needlessly loud noises. Your ears are delicate and valuable. Make sure that you’re looking after your ears.

References:
Healtline.com
WebMD.com


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