Overexposure to loud music for long durations can cause damage to the ear, resulting in temporary or permanent loss of hearing.

Noise-induced hearing loss is the term that refers to hearing loss that occurs due to exposure to loud noise.

Do Headphones Cause Hearing Loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss is the second most common type of sensorineural hearing loss after age-related hearing loss. A 2017 study indicated that approximately 80% of individuals between 13 and 18 years of age use headphones for listening to music for 1–3 hours a day.

Listening to loud noise for long periods causes hearing loss. This causes damage to the auditory nerve and hair cells of the cochlea, or inner ear.

According to the 2021 study, approximately 1.7% of people worldwide experience noise-induced hearing loss. The study reported individuals who use headphones in an already noisy environment are at a 4.5-fold higher risk of hearing loss.

The recommended sound exposure level is 85 decibels (dBA) for 8 hours a day.

Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing loss.

Health experts suggest even listening to headphones at a moderate volume can damage hearing over time. It is not just the loudness that causes damage, but the length of exposure.

A few common warning signs of hearing loss include:

  • hearing muffled sounds
  • difficulty in understanding conversations in noisy places
  • difficulty in hearing high-pitch sounds
  • difficulty in hearing speech consonants
  • ringing in ears
  • asking someone to repeat what they said or speak loudly
  • hypersensitivity to certain sounds

People who have any of the above symptoms should consult a doctor. People may receive a referral to a hearing doctor.

Diagnosing Hearing Loss

Screening for hearing loss is a fairly simple and painless procedure.

If someone suspects hearing loss, the doctor will first perform a physical examination of the ear, known as an otoscopy. This procedure examines the structures of the ear, such as:

  • The external auditory canal: The ear canal moves sound toward the eardrum, known as the tympanic membrane.
  • The tympanic membrane: A thin membrane that performs two functions: transmission and amplification.
  • The middle ear: This part of the ear connects external sound waves with the the inner ear for auditory transduction — conversion of sound to an electrical waveform.

General screening test

During the screening, a doctor may ask a person to cover one ear and describe what they can hear at different volumes. The doctor will also check their sensitivity to certain sounds.

If the doctor suspects a hearing problem, they will refer a person to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist or an audiologist. They may carry out further testing, such as:

  • A tuning fork test: This test uses a metal instrument that vibrates against the ear from different distances. This will help determine when a person can no longer hear a sound.
  • Audiometer test: A person will wear suitably fitted earphones, and doctors will direct sounds at a controlled range of volumes and tones into one ear at a time. Like the above test, an audiologist will ask someone to confirm when they can no longer hear a sound.
  • Bone oscillator test: This test places an oscillator against the ear bone to determine the nerve’s function and the type of hearing loss a person may have.

A person can discuss any concerns relating to the screening or the results with a medical professional.

The sooner people receive a diagnosis after experiencing early hearing loss signs, the quicker a doctor can work to reduce the effects of hearing loss or damage may have on their quality of life.

Treating Hearing Loss

There are several methods doctors can help improve a person’s ability to hear, including:

  • hearing aids
  • middle ear implants
  • cochlear implants
  • lip reading and sign language

A hearing doctor can explore the most suitable option for a person’s noise-induced hearing loss.

Preventing Hearing Loss from Headphones

Some of the approaches to prevent hearing loss with headphones include:

  • turning down the volume of headphones below the recommended level to limit exposure to loud noise
  • using noise-canceling headphones that block out external sound allows people to enjoy their music at low volumes
  • replacing earbuds or in-the-ear headphones with over-the-ear headphones
  • reducing listening times
  • getting routine checkups of ears

A person can lower volume levels even when not using headphones, such as on televisions or smartphones, and can use ear protection at loud events or environments.

People should consult a doctor if they have any signs of an ear infection, such as:

  • prolonged earache
  • ear discharge
  • worsened or persistent hearing loss.

Article originally appeared on MedicalNewsToday

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