Headphones and Hearing

A Happy or Merry Whatever to you all.  Let’s talk a bit about holiday presents.  Headphones are a frequent children’s holiday gift.  As with anything, we must exercise caution in considering these popular consumer items.  Studies indicate that children as young as 3 use  headphones, 1 /2 of 8-12 year olds and 2/3 of children 13+ use them frequently.

First , a bit of background.  The detrimental effects of noise on one’s ears is a function of both loudness and duration of exposure.  The unit range is not a linear phenomenon.  In other words, 80 decibels (dB) is 2x 70dB and 90 is 4x.  For a point of reference, 100 dB is the sound of a lawn mower and 15′ exposure is considered risky.  The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health indicates that 85dB for 8 hours is the limit for safety in a work environment.

To be safe, headphones are supposed to max out at that 85dB level.  Unfortunately, many models can be cranked up as high as 97-107 dB, including brands that say they don’t.  Note that some MP3 players can reach 120dB–the sound of a rock concert stage; >5′ at that level is considered unsafe. I try to avoid endorsing any specific product brands on this blog, so keep those last facts in mind when choosing a model.  Sites like The Wirecutter and Consumer Reports can be helpful in assessing the accuracy of advertised claims.

As always, I advise parental involvement and supervision as your best strategy for safety.  Encourage your children to listen at 60% volume maximum and for no more than 1 hour.  Check the volume level your child uses yourself.  If you cannot clearly hear what’s being said to you from arm’s length distance then the volume is too high.  Take at least 10′ break for every hour of listening to rest your ears.

Symptoms of potential hearing loss include:

  • ringing, roaring, hissing, or buzzing in ears
  • difficulty understanding speech in noisy places
  • Ears feel muffled
  • Requiring progressively higher volume settings to listen

Please send along questions or comments.  Happy and Healthy New Year to all.



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