Dial It Down – Earbuds Can Cause Hearing Loss

Mom was right, again. “Turn down that god awful music,” sound familiar? Nowadays that truism should come with the caveat, “and wear the right earbuds, dear.”

We’ve heard for years that when a person is exposed to high sound levels they are at risk for hearing loss. Noise-induced loss is the leading cause for permanent ear damage. “Instead of the iPod we’re turning up, it will be a hearing aid.” Bay Area Hearing Aid Dispenser John Diles admits, “while good for business, I’d much rather see people protecting their ears, like wearing sunglasses protects your eyes.”

There are two categories of hearing loss, conductive and nerve loss. Conductive occurs when the bones in the ear fail to carry sound such as when fluid collects in the ear. Nerve loss, often not reversible, is caused when the nerve or tiny hairs inside the ear are damaged by “over stimulation.” The ear cells fracture and can’t pick up sound. This type of hearing damage is cumulative and permanent. Nerve loss is usually painless, gradually destroying hearing without warning—but totally preventable with hearing protection and knowledgeable listening practices.

The use of earbuds over headphones increases the hearing damage since standard earbuds allow some background noise to intrude on the music, often resulting in a person turning up the volume even more. According to Australia’s National Acoustic Laboratories, over 5,250,000 people worldwide are currently going deaf from listening to their iPods at excessive volumes.

The iPod manual claims permanent hearing loss may occur at high volume, but also, “You can adapt over time to a higher volume of sound, which may sound normal but can be damaging to your hearing. Set your iPod’s volume to a safe level before that happens.”

As we are unlikely to give up music and the technology that lets us parade around with it, we must rely on better listening habits to protect us:

– Wear hearing protection when unavoidable noise is excessive.

– Take 15-minute quiet breaks to ease fatigued ears when exposed to high noise environments.

– Be aware of common sources of sound that with repeated or prolonged exposure can cause hearing loss: hair dryer, loud concerts, sirens, jet engines, chainsaws, firecrackers, motorcycles, leaf blowers and lawn mowers.

– When exercising with earbuds be especially aware of the volume as your body is concentrating on the work and not defending itself from loud noise.

The construction industry can be synonymous with loud noise but it doesn’t have to result in hearing loss. Make it a habit to protect your ears at work and at play—and don’t forget to put your shades on.