In the 21st century, playing and streaming music became more popular, and the world saw a rise in headphone usage. Thus, noise-induced hearing loss became a prevalent issue among young adults and teens.
Hearing loss occurs when your ears are exposed to loud sounds for an extended amount of time. In your ears, there are tiny hair cells and nerves that are responsible for detecting sound waves. According to an article by the CDC, noises will bend the hairs, causing them to send signals to the brain. Loud sounds bend the hairs quite a bit, while quieter sounds do not affect them as much. While these hairs will recover by themselves after a certain period, long-term listening does not give them time to recover, ultimately killing the cells.
Much like eyesight, hearing damage is irreversible. The hairs in your ear will never regenerate, and there are no known methods of repairing these hairs. Most hearing damage begins at 85 decibels, and sounds become more harmful as they get louder. Hearing loss will cause you to lose certain frequencies in your hearing and is indicated by a ringing sound.
Since headphones, especially earbuds, are always near your ears, they are more likely to cause hearing loss compared to ambient noise or sounds generated by loudspeakers. It is difficult to gauge loudness while wearing headphones and earbuds, making it easy to unknowingly listen to high levels.
According to the World Health Organization, 60 percent of all hearing loss is preventable. So how can you listen responsibly?
The best way is to try as best as possible to protect your ears from loud sounds and prevent long-term exposure to sounds. It is important to be mindful of the volume at all times, especially when listening with headphones and earbuds. Remember to take breaks between listening sessions to give your ears the time they need to recover.
There are apps and listening devices with features that can help monitor sound levels and maintain hearing health. For example, Apple's headphones and earbuds track audio levels in the Health app and display whether your listening levels are healthy or too high. They can also use the Live Listen feature to monitor ambient levels by using their built-in microphones.
Written by Harper Kim