Many people enjoy listening to podcasts or music while exercising, and a lot of teens and children use headphones regularly while playing video games. Headphones are particularly useful when you’re traveling for long periods, such as on an airplane. Everyone can listen or watch what they want without bothering the person next to them.
We actually think Bone Conduction Headphones are safer and better for not only hearing your surroundings while you are listening to your personal listening device. But we also feel they are better for tinnitus because they are not next to your eardrum like Apple Airpods and earbuds are. They rest on your cheekbones.
How Safe Is It For Adults and Kids To Wear Earbuds, Airpods, and Headphones?
That said, how safe is it really for adults and your children to wear Earbuds, Airpods, and Headphones? Is our headphone use contributing to noise-induced hearing loss, even among our children?
Experts do agree that listening to any listening device too loudly and for too long can damage your or your child’s hearing. Unfortunately, noise-induced hearing loss can’t be regained. Furthermore, hearing loss can impact a person’s social and educational development as well as negatively affect their employment. In young children, hearing loss can even hinder language development.
From the World Health Organization Article on Deafness:
“The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a billion young people worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices.
Over 43 million people between the ages of 12–35 years live with disabling hearing loss due to different causes. Among teenagers and young adults aged 12–35 years in the middle- and high-income countries:
Nearly 50% are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices.
Around 40% are exposed to potentially damaging sound levels at clubs, discotheques, and bars.”
Does this mean you and your child can’t use Earbuds, Airpods, and Headphones safely?
Research on Headphone Safety and Hearing Loss
Based on reports from the Hearing Loss Association of America, approximately 12.5 percent of kids aged 6 through 19 have hearing loss due to listening to loud music, especially through earbuds at unsafe volumes. This is particularly concerning since even mild hearing loss can cause students to miss up to 50 percent of the discussion in a classroom. This can impact their educational performance and learning.
The potential problem of early hearing loss among children and young adults even caused the World Health Organization to issue safety guidelines for headphones. With the statistic from the almost 50 percent of people aged 12 to 35 years old in middle- and high-income countries are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from personal devices.
When you use a statistic like these and use the word “Billion” that is not a problem it is an epidemic.
One concern is that kids and teens may be listening to music and other audio at louder volumes than adults. This tendency puts them at greater risk for hearing damage.
Using Headphones Safely
Safe listening depends on the loudness (intensity) of the sound, how long you listen (duration), and how often (frequency) you use headphones. These three factors are interconnected. All three play a role in the sound level that your ears are exposed to.
For example, you can listen to sounds at 85 decibels for less than eight hours safely. But many users listen to their audio devices on volumes between 75 to 105 decibels. Furthermore, devices can emit sound as high as 136 decibels.
Fortunately, once you understand how these factors interact, you can use them as a guideline to help you and your family develop safe headphone habits. Here are some strategies to help you.
Limit the Loudness
Everyone from adults to teens to toddlers should not listen to sounds with their headphones that are louder than 80 decibels. But how can you tell what level your sound is at?
If you’re wearing headphones, you should be able to easily hear what someone is saying when they’re talking to you. If you can’t hear the person, turn down your volume.
Here are some strategies that you and your family can use to limit your headphone sound’s loudness.
- Listen to audio at no more than 60 percent of the device’s volume level. This approach can help ensure that the volume isn’t too loud.
- Use headphones with a built-in volume limiter for your children. These types of headphones are typically marked as kid-safe.’ These headphones are designed to have a reduced maximum volume level. However, do your research to ensure the brand you buy does limit sound as advertised.
- Set your device, or your child’s device, so it can’t go above a predetermined volume level. Many smartphones and tablets have this type of feature available in the settings section. Many devices also let you set a password so that only people who know the password can increase the volume beyond the preset limit. This feature can be a great way to ensure that your child (or you) don’t accidentally listen to audio at levels that are too high.
- Before giving your young child their headphones, listen to the sound first to ensure the levels are safe.
Limit the Duration
Exposure to noise for long periods plays a critical role in hearing damage. Limiting the amount of time you or your child listen to audio through headphones can help.
One easy rule to follow is to limit headphone use to no more than one hour a day. If that’s not possible, then take frequent listening breaks. This approach can help reduce the overall duration of your exposure to the sounds, which can help protect hearing.
Use Noise Cancellation Technology
Most headphones and earbuds don’t do anything specific to block out the noise around you like sounds from cars, the hum of a subway train, or the roar of an airplane. The act of wearing headphones or earbuds will result in a little incidental reduction in hearing ambient sounds, but environmental sounds will still be heard overall.
Consider times when you’re traveling on an airplane listening to a movie. If the actors are speaking quietly, you’ve likely had to increase the sound to counteract the background noise from the airplane’s engines. This habit of turning up the volume to counteract that background noise can increase the chance of listening to audio at louder volumes than is safe for headphone use.
Noise cancellation technology, however, helps reduce the impact of the sounds around you, which can help you listen to audio at lower, safer volume levels. There are two types of noise cancellation technology used in headphones: passive and active.
Passive Noise Cancellation
When sounds around you get too loud, you instinctively cover your ears. Placing your hands over your ears does muffle the sound. Passive noise cancellation works similarly.
Headphones that utilize passive noise cancellation features are designed to completely cover your ear to help prevent sounds external to the headphones from being heard. If you’re using over the ear headphones, the padding on the ear will be designed to cover and enclose your ear completely. As a result, you’ll focus more on the sounds coming through the headphones and not be as distracted by the sounds around you.
Typically, headphones that utilize passive noise cancellation features will have thick padding on the ears to help prevent external sounds from interfering. These types of headphones can be effective. However, some people find the extra padding is too bulky, especially if they travel a lot with headphones. Another downside is that these types of headphones depend on you having a perfect fit that forms the seal around your ear to prevent the external noise.
Active Noise Cancellation
Active noise cancellation technology doesn’t rely on thick padding to block ambient noise. Instead, headphones with active noise cancellation introduce different sounds to block out the external noise going on around you.
These types of headphones have a built-in processor to introduce the different sounds that cancel out the unwanted environmental noises. Most headphones with this feature also come with a button or some way to activate and deactivate the noise cancellation function.
Active noise cancellation features can be perfect for noisy environments like gyms, trains, or airplanes. It can help reduce distractions from what is going on around you so that you can listen to your audio at lower, safe levels.
While noise cancellation features are becoming more common on over the ear headphones, some earbuds also have this function. However, since it can be more challenging to get a perfect seal with earbuds given the different shapes of people’s ear canals, it may be harder to find a pair that suits you. Also, if you’re considering trying an earbud that cancels noise, be sure to determine whether it incorporates active noise cancellation features or only has noise isolating features.
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether passive or active noise cancellation is best for you and whether you prefer over the ear headphones or earbuds.
Avoid Earbud and Airpod Style Headphones For Kids
While you can damage your hearing with any type of headphones, earbuds place the sound close to your eardrum. This fact has raised concern among many parents, especially of small children who may not fully understand the importance of keeping the volume at safe levels.
Additionally, louder audio sounds don’t tend to get distorted when using earbuds, so it’s easier to listen at unsafe levels accidentally. Having over the ear headphones may make it easier to keep volumes at safe levels for your kids, especially young ones.
Talk With Older Children About Using Headphones Safely (and Set a Good Example)
We live in a world where the vast majority of people are going to use headphones regularly. Therefore, talk with your older children about how to use headphones safely. Be clear about the potential risk of listening to music and other sounds at levels that are too loud. Discuss and show by example how to use headphone technology safely. One day they are going to have to monitor and make their own decisions on how frequently they use headphones and at what sound levels, so explain the facts to them while you can.
Send Appropriate Headphones to School for School-Aged Children
Many school-aged children, including elementary ages, use headphones regularly at school. As a parent, you won’t be there to make sure the volume on the device is set at the appropriate level, and school-issued headphones most likely don’t have volume-limiting technology. To ensure your child safety, talk to the teacher or school and send your child with their own sound limiting headphones.
Encouraging Safe Headphone Practices Will Help Protect You and Your Child’s Hearing
Headphones are a part of most people’s lifestyle and can be useful when used appropriately. Fortunately, there are a variety of types of headphones on the market, so it’s possible to find the kind that best suit you or your child’s needs.
As long as you limit the volume and how long you listen per day, you and your child can enjoy the benefits of using headphones without the risk of damaging your hearing.
Bone Conduction Headphones
Another option we like is Bone Conduction Headphones. Bone Conduction Headphone technology can be used to send sound directly to the cochlea, bypassing the eardrum completely. As discussed above earbuds place the sound close to your eardrum.
That also doesn’t mean that you cannot damage your hearing with Bone Conduction Headphones because you can. If you listen to anything too loud for too long it will damage your hearing
As we said in this quote from the article “How Loud Is Too Loud With Bone Conduction Headphones?”
“Bone Conduction Headphones do not sit in your ear canal because they ride on your cheekbones. They do not have better-sounding music than High-End Earphones and they are not as small and convenient as Earbuds.
What Bone Conduction Headphones do have is an amazing ability to give you great sound while you can also hear the rest of the world. This is wonderful for so many things and in so many ways. This makes bone-conduction a great choice for so many activates and anyone who would like to enjoy Music or an Audiobook while staying alert and aware of their surroundings.”
They are especially good for outdoor exercising or running and allowing you to hear your surrounding environment like traffic.
Hearing Loss Can Be Avoided
We can always have an accident and have some unforeseen thing happens where we are exposed to loud noise without hearing protection like a gunshot or even someone clapping next to your ear.
We talk about hearing loss extensively on this website and in our articles because we have Tinnitus and hearing loss and many people we know have it for one reason or another. But to the best of our ability, Hearing Loss is preventable and once you have it, it cannot be reversed.
Quote from the World Health Organization:
“Hearing is a precious faculty. Hearing damage due to excessive noise cannot be reversed. Quality of life can decline among affected people, while health care costs for society can increase. Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable – so look after your hearing”