Are Headphones and Earbuds Bad For Your Health?

couple listening to music with earbuds

Whether you love to listen to the latest Spotify playlist as you walk to work or enjoy getting stuck into a great audiobook, you wouldn’t be alone in always checking you’ve got your headphones or earbuds before you leave the house. Teens and young people, especially, seem to value the privacy provided by a portable escape that enables clearer thinking, blocks outside noise and generally prevents conversations when you don’t feel like it. The trouble is that, for years, experts have been discovering that any benefits of headphones or earbuds are drastically ruined by their potential health hazards. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has especially released worrying findings that suggest as many as 50% of people between the ages of 12-35 are at risk of experiencing some hearing loss after extended periods of using these products. Those are high statistics, made worse by the fact that individuals within that group are also at risk of a wide range of health conditions, if they continue without seeking help or making a change. The question, then, is not ‘are headphones and earbuds bad for your health,’ but rather, how are they harming your health overall and what can you do about it? 

The Health Hazards of Headphones and Earbuds

While most of us are aware that excessive use of headphones and earbuds can cause some hearing setbacks, few of us realize the full extent of this issue. This is a problem that both prevents people from seeking treatment and exacerbates any risks, something that can best be avoided by considering the full scope of health hazards, which include: 

  • Hearing loss: The risk of noise-induced hearing loss in individuals who continually listen to loud music, is the most obvious and concerning risk of ongoing misuse of these products. Extended periods of use are the worst culprits for this, but studies have also shown that even just a few songs at maximum volume can significantly damage the inner ear.
  • Impaired cognition: Studies have continually shown that over time and left untreated, even mild noise-induced hearing loss can hinder cognition, leaving individuals who continue to use these products facing at least double the risk of developing conditions like dementia.
  • Mental health problems: A 2014 study also revealed that hearing loss increases the risks of issues like depression in individuals below the age of 70 due to increased isolation and the general inability to communicate. As such, headphones and earbuds could, inadvertently, take a significant toll on mental health overall. 

The Best Ways to Protect Your Hearing

It’s fair to say that careful use of headphones and earbuds is as crucial to your health as exercise. Luckily, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use these products at all, but it does highlight the need to get safe usage right by keeping the following essentials in mind:

  • Stay below 70 dB: WHO have found that even extended exposure to sounds below 70dB are unlikely to cause hearing loss, highlighting the need to stick to this safe listening limit. Achieving this means setting your device’s volume to no more than 50% or using one of many hearing applications that allow you to check volume more specifically. 
  • Take regular breaks: While high volumes can lead to hearing loss after even short listening periods, extended use of these products is often the worst culprit for noise-induced hearing problems, making it essential to take regular five-minute breaks at least every hour. 
  • Know the warning signs for hearing loss: Secondary health complaints most often arise when hearing loss goes unnoticed, especially if you continue to use headphones and earbuds. As such, knowing the signs of hearing loss and speaking to an audiologist as soon as you notice them is your best chance of at least preventing further damage thanks to treatments such as hearing aids.

Listen Out for Help When You Need It

Noise-induced hearing loss can take a significant toll on your life, your health and happiness. As well as taking precautionary measures, seeking help as soon as you notice a change in your hearing is crucial for staying on top. Audiologists like our team here at Peninsula Hearing are well-experienced with noise-induced hearing loss and are on-hand to help if you simply contact us today at Poulsbo: 360-697-3061 or Port Townsend: 360-379-5458.