Headphones Health Risks in Teenagers


Is your kid always listening to music using headphones? If so, it is time for you to teach your child how to use them responsibly. A study by WHO shows that as much as 1.1 billion teenagers around the world face the risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of audio devices like headphones and earphones. Another study claims that nearly 30% of teenagers suffer from a condition called tinnitus that causes a constant ringing or whistling noise in the ear.

Headphones Health Risks

James E. Foy, DO, an osteopathic paediatrician based out of Vallejo, California says that even a small percent of hearing loss in kids can cause a delay in their speech and language learning. This explains how important it is to stall the extensive use of headphones or earphones right from early developmental age of your kid.

This World Deaf Day, let us shed some light on headphones health risks in teenagers so that we can take the right steps to prevent any adverse effects on their health.

Interesting Facts About Hearing

  1. Your ears are always awake and listening even when you are fast asleep. Your brain decides to ignore the sounds.
  2. Your inner ear is as small as a pencil eraser.
  3. Your sense of hearing is heavily dependant on the hairs lining in your inner ears. You will lose your hearing ability if you lose your hair.
  4. When there is excess wax, your ears push them out as needed. You don’t have to clean it on your own unless you have an abnormal condition.
  5. Exposure of extremely loud noise like a shotgun blast can damage your hearing permanently.

Human Hearing Range

The normal human hearing range would be the one where the loudness and pitch of the sound are bearable for the human ears. Anything beyond that causes discomfort and is dangerous for a human ear.

Humans can hear a range of sound that falls between certain levels of pitch and loudness. Pitch is measured in Hertz (Hz) while loudness is measured in decibels (dB).

Our ears are sensitive to pitches ranging from 2000 to 5000 Hz. However, we can hear a pitch range as low as 20 Hz and as loud as 20,000 Hz. On the other hand, 0 dB to 85 dB is the bearable level of loudness of the sound. Anything above 85 dB is dangerous to our ears.

To get an idea of the levels of your hearing capabilities, take a look at the image below.

Levels of Your Hearing Capabilities

ALSO READ Here is What you need to Know about Hearing Loss

Mechanism of Hearing

The human ear consists of the outer, middle and inner ear. Sound is captured as waves in the outer ear. These sound waves are converted into vibrations by the eardrum and are sent to the cochlea through several small bones of the middle ear cavity.

The cochlea is a spiral part in the inner ear and has a fluid-filled chamber, which is lined by many small sensitive hairs. When the vibrations reach the cochlear chamber, the fluid within vibrates making the hair to move along with it. So, louder sounds result in stronger vibrations and more hair movement.

Human Ear Anatomy

How Does Headphones Damage Your Child’s Ears?

The most dangerous thing about your kids using headphones or earphones is its volume level. These devices are capable of producing loud volume levels and over everything else, it happens close to our ears.

When your kids listen to extremely loud music through their devices, the loud sound causes stronger vibrations in the cochlear region. This causes the hair cells to bend or fold and in extreme cases results in loss of sensitivity.

Hair cells generally take time to get back to their normal condition. For this reason, we feel “temporary hearing loss” after we feel a sudden blast of sound.

But, in some cases, when the hair cells lose its sensitivity and do not recover, they get damaged beyond repair and results in loss of hearing. Most often, this type of damage is caused by loud and explosions like a shotgun blast or prolonged use of headphones and earphones in high volume. You can take a look at the below table to get an idea of how various sounds around us can affect our hearing abilities.

Noise Level Time Before Damage Equivalent To:
80 dB 25 hours Telephonic dial tone
83 dB 12 hours
86 dB 6.5 hours City traffic
89 dB 3 hours
92 dB 1.5 hours Highway traffic
95 dB 45 minutes Jackhammer 50’ away
98 dB 23 minutes
101 dB 12 minutes Hand drill at 3’
104 dB 6 minutes
107 dB 3 minutes Lawnmower at 3’
110 dB 1.5 minutes
113 dB >1 minutes Power saw, rock concert

Source: cdc.gov

Dos and Don’ts of Headphones You Must Teach Your Kids Today

Usage of headphones and earphones are indispensable in this era. And so are the rising cases of headphone casualties. Help your kids avoid falling victim to hearing damages by breaking certain habits for good.

1. Turning Down the Volume

The level of volume at which your kid listens to music is quite important to notice. Turning the volume of the earphones or headphones down will make a big difference in taking care of hearing ability. Research shows that high volume is responsible for many cases of Noise Induced Hearing Loss. Earphones, in particular, are plugged very close to your ear canal making it five to six times more harmful. Make sure your child is listening at a 60% volume level or lower. Buy devices that automatically sets the volume at the desired levels.

2. Reduce Listening Time

Non-stop headphones or earphones use can damage the hair cells beyond repair. For this reason, in addition to reducing the volume below 60%, advice your child to reduce the headphone time. It is best to take 5 to 10 minutes breaks in between listening over headphones. This will give the hair cells in your inner ear enough time to recuperate. Teach your kid the ‘60-60 rule’. This simply means listening to music for 60 minutes at 60% or lower volume levels.

3. Avoid Buying Cheap Earphones

Kids often can’t help but get attracted to stylish and colourful earphones displayed in the street shops near the mall or school. In any case, avoid buying these for your kids. First of all, the sound is distorted, which asks for raised volumes. Secondly, they offer a bad fit, which makes your kids stuff the earbuds far into the ears. Finally, unequal sound amplification and no noise cancellation features destroy the functionality of ears with only a few hours of use. So, it is wise to invest in good quality earphones.

4. Use the Over-the-ear Model

Most often, using the in-ear model or earbuds can cause more harm to your kid’s ears than you think. The sound is heard louder as they are quite closer to the eardrums. For this reason, the over-the-ear model must be preferred.

5. Use Noise-cancellation Headphones

Most of us want to drown out the world around us and get lost in the musical world with our headphones. But, it does not work. No matter what, outside sound seeps in and mixes with your music to only strain your ears. For this reason, when you are looking for new headphones, turn to noise-cancellation headphones.

6. Precautions to Take When Using Earbuds

But if you have already bought an in-ear model for your child, it is best to advise your child to use it less often and give long breaks in between. The earbuds trap sweat and dust in your ears which results in the wax buildup. In addition, the earbuds push the ear wax further into your ears eventually blocking the ear canal. Also, over time your earbuds may become infectious because of the dirt and germs. So, make sure to clean the earbuds regularly. It is advisable to frequently change the headphones and earbuds covers.

To Conclude,

You simply can’t stop your kids from using headphones. For instance, when you are in public, you can’t let your child watch a cartoon video loudly as it annoys the people in the vicinity. So, what can you do to cancel out the adverse effects of the headphones? Make sure you get your kid an over-the-ear model of headphones. Above all, make sure your kid is following the ‘60-60 rule’.

Stop fighting the lost battle over headphones! Get your kid high-quality headphones and teach them how to use it responsibly!



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