We wear them to listen to music, the radio, watch TV or talk on the phone. We also use them when exercising, both in and outside the house, regardless of the level of exterior noise.
However, improper use of earphones or headphones can have an impact on our hearing. According to the WHO, almost 50% of people are exposed to harmful levels of noise because of these devices.
Specialists stress that prolonged use of headphones at a high volume can damage our ears and cause hearing loss or other conditions, such as tinnitus (also known as ringing in the ears). Tinnitus is a ringing sound that was once occasional and becomes permanent after exposure to a continuous source of sound.
In order to continue enjoying music or our favourite programme without bothering the people around us, the WHO (World Health Organization) has come up with a list with 2 basic recommendations to ensure that sound exposure while using these devices causes as little damage as possible:
The first is respecting a safe level of noise exposure. This means adjusting the volume to a comfortable level in a quiet environment, so that it does not exceed 60% of the maximum volume level allowed by the device. Headphones are more advisable than earphones as they isolate noise from the environment, which allows us to hear the sound clearly at a lower volume than if we were listening with earphones. Furthermore, the sound from the earphones enters directly into the ear and can cause further injury.
The second tip is limiting the amount of time of sound exposure when using headphones or earphones. This is because the duration contributes to the total permitted sound energy level per day. For this reason, it is good to take breaks when the exposure is prolonged.
Experts advise us to follow the 60/60 rule: no more than 60 minutes listening a day at a maximum of 60 decibels.
Here are some examples of sound levels produced by various sources in our daily life:
City traffic: 80-85 dB.
Vacuum cleaner: 65 dB.
Normal conversation: 50-60 dB.
Sea waves: 30 dB.
Birdsong: 10 dB.
There are sonometers to measure decibels in any situation available in App form for smartphones, (both iPhone and Android). This informs you of the noise level that you are exposing yourself to.
Although genetic predisposition to hearing loss must be taken into account, it’s evident that prolonged exposure to high-volume sound sources (e.g. above 85 db for 8 hours) can cause hearing loss.
According to the statistics, the average age of the onset of hearing loss has gone from 60 years of age to 40 since we started using earphones regularly.