Something You Don’t Want to Hear About Earbuds
Young adults are experiencing hearing loss and experts say earbuds are to blame. But there are ways to jam out safely.
Hearing loss isn’t just the stuff of senior citizens: 1 in 5 teens will experience hearing loss — a rate that’s 30% higher than it was 20 years ago. You know what wasn’t around 20 years ago? Earbuds.
At maximum volume, earbuds and AirPods can be as loud as 110 decibels, which is the equivalent of someone shouting directly into your ear. According to the CDC, being exposed to 85 decibels over a prolonged period, or repeatedly, puts you at risk of hearing damage. If you’re listening to your earbuds at the maximum volume of 110 decibels, you’re at risk of hearing loss after just five minutes — barely the length of two songs.
Alison M. Grimes, Director of Audiology and Newborn Hearing Screening at UCLA Health, says that two main factors contribute to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL): how loud the sound is and the duration of that sound. “The ear doesn’t care if it’s Tchaikovsky or Grateful Dead,” she says. “It’s all about sound pressure level in the ear canal.”
“To further complicate things, different people have different susceptibility to NIHL,” Grimes adds. “Some people have tough ears and they can listen to loud sound for an hour without damaging their hearing.” Others, not so much.
Unfortunately, there’s no way for people to know if they’re blessed with so-called tough ears, and researchers are still trying to find out why some are less susceptible to noise-induced damage. Research has shown a link between eye color and NIHL risk, and Grimes says there’s some data showing that people with light blue eyes are more susceptible to NIHL than those with dark brown eyes, “but there are exceptions to every rule.”
No matter what your eye color is, you shouldn’t press your luck. The World Health Organization estimates 1.1 billion teens and young adults are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, largely because of two risk factors: “The unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars, and sporting events.”