Ear Health: How To Prevent Hearing Loss?


Hearing loss in young people is an increasingly serious problem around the world.

One in five adolescents suffers from some form of hearing loss, a 30% increase compared to the 1990s.

It's an epidemic on the rise, and has a lot to do with the increased use of inadequate headphones and listening to loud music.

This problem is also due to noise pollution in cities. As professionals in the world of sound, at Cultura Sonora we are very conscious of hearing health.

In this article, we present some simple tips to protect your ears.

Thanks to smartphones, we can now listen to our favorite music whenever we feel like it.

However, many of these devices come with poor quality in-ear headphones. Did you know that according to statistics, they are the worst for our ears?

Therefore, it's important that if you use this type of headphones, they are of good quality, so that they cause as little damage as possible to your ears. Here are good options we have selected in this review of in-ear headphones

Add to this the poor quality and prolonged use at dangerous volumes, and you have a terrible auditory cocktail.

The World Health Organization recently announced that over 1 billion young people between the ages of 12 and 35 are at risk of deafness from listening to loud music for long periods of time.

Worst of all, most people who suffer from hearing loss do not receive timely treatment. Fortunately, with a little awareness, up to 60% of cases in young people can be prevented.

What is hearing loss?

Basically, it's hearing less than usual. Hearing loss can affect one or both ears, and can be classified as mild, moderate, severe or profound.

Hearing loss can be due to many causes: diseases, ear infections, complications in the ear canal, or working in environments with high noise pollution.

However, more and more young people are coming to clinics with incipient deafness, due to poor headphone habits.

In the US alone, 15% of young people over 18 years of age suffer from some type of hearing loss. Worst of all, because deafness is a gradual process, many are unaware that they are losing hearing, and let the problem go on unchecked until it's too late…

Volumes and exposures that can cause hearing loss

Hearing loss due to noise pollution depends on both the volume (measured in dB), and the duration of exposure to the sound. A volume equal to or less than 85 dB is safe, but any higher can cause permanent hearing loss, depending on the duration of exposure to sound:

  • At 95 dB, we can suffer loss after four hours of exposure per day.
  • At 100 dB, damage occurs after two hours of exposure per day.
  • At 105 dB, after one hour of daily exposure.
  • At 110 dB we can suffer loss with 30 minutes of daily exposure.
  • At 115 dB, damage can occur after 15 minutes of exposure.
  • At 120 dB damage can occur instantaneously.

Noise pollution can be found everywhere. Traffic noise is heard at approximately 75 dB, a subway train at 90 dB, a gunshot at 100 dB and an airplane at 140 dB.

Mobile devices, such as mobile phones, can produce sounds that exceed 115 dB. MP3 players or DAPs can produce sounds over 115 dB, the same as we might hear at a King Crimson or Radiohead concert.

What are the best and worst headphones in relation to hearing loss?

Hearing loss can occur from listening to music at excessive volumes for prolonged periods, and this can easily happen with improper use of headphones.

Headphones deliver very loud and concentrated sound waves to the ears, and can quickly cause irreversible damage if they exceed 85 dB, the maximum safe volume point.

We're not saying to avoid using headphones, far from it. Headphones are great for immersing ourselves in the world of music.

They allow us to escape and enjoy our favorite music anywhere and at any time, without disturbing anyone. We just need to use them with care.

In addition, some headsets are safer than others, and we can also follow certain tips to avoid problems.

Over Ear Headphones

Bose noise cancelling headphones

Circumaural (over-ear) headphones are worn over the head and feature comfortable, padded cups that cover the entire ear.

There are two types: closed and open.

The best open-type over-ear headphones generate high-quality sound. You can recognize them because they feature some kind of grille from which you can see the drivers that produce sound. The cups are usually removable, and do not trap sound within the space between the drivers and the ear.

This means that sound can escape, which helps keep the volume at bay enough to prevent ear damage.

However, they are also poor at isolating external noise, which many users compensate for by turning up the volume excessively, thereby increasing the possibility of hearing damage.

Closed-type over-ear headphones, as the name suggests, have a solid surface without grilles. This type of headset offers the best noise cancellation on the market.

They create a seal that traps sound between the ear, and the cups and do not allow external noise to penetrate the space.

They are the best for preventing hearing loss, because the user has full control over the sounds that reach their ears.

Closed over-ear headphones allow us to listen to our music at safe volumes, as we do not need to isolate ambient noise and turn up the volume.

In-ear headphones

In-ear headphones

In-ear headphones , such as earphones or earbuds, are the most popular as they offer a very powerful sound and are very portable.

In-ear headphones have drivers that fit in the ear canal. This can be dangerous, as it places the drivers closer to the eardrum.

If used above 85 dB, they can easily cause hearing damage.

The good thing is that they eliminate external noise quite well, meaning you can use them at safe volumes, but over-ear headphones are generally safer.

Tips to prevent hearing loss with headphones:

Attention when choosing headphones

The use of headphones has increased dramatically in recent years.

They are very versatile, and can be connected to any device: smartphones, computers, tablets, TVs, iPods, MP3 players… They are available everywhere, and people of all ages use them.

In-ear headphones are the most popular. They are compact, lightweight and can be very economical.

The problem is that the earphones that come with many mobile devices are of terrible quality, and do not fit to your ears properly. This means they can leak sound, causing people to use dangerous volumes to compensate.

When it comes to headphones, the famous phrase “one size fits all” is a big lie.

The best way to protect your ears is to find a pair of headphones that are comfortable and fit your ears properly.

You can try on several pairs of headphones in specialized stores, to find out which models may fit you well.

The best in-ear headphones come with different sized ear tips for a custom fit, while over-ear headphones are very comfortable, usually offer better sound and are much safer.

Limit exposure time and volume

The World Health Organization recommends not listening to music for more than one hour a day through our headphones.

Although 85 dB is considered a safe volume level, after several hours of daily use, it can be damaging.

The best thing to do is to follow the WHO recommendation, and let your ears rest every now and then.

Many specialists recommend following a rule known as 60:60: limit your exposure to sound through headphones to 60 minutes per day, while using 60% of the capacity of your music player.

Using headphones with good noise cancellation enables listening to music at much lower levels. This is also a factor that can help users who want to listen to music for long periods of time.

Types of hearing problems related to headphones and exposure to loud music or noises

The type of hearing loss associated with the use of headphones and exposure to loud noises, such as those found in discotheques, concerts, etc., is known as hypoacusis or partial deafness.

It affects the ear to varying degrees:

  • Mild hearing loss: causes a loss of 20 to 40 dB, and makes it difficult to hear distant voices.
  • Average hearing loss: decreases the normal capacity from 40 to 70 dB, making it difficult to hear conversations.
  • Severe hearing loss: generates losses of 70-90 dB, and only allows for hearing very loud voices at a short distance.
  • Profound hearing loss: causes a hearing loss of 90 dB. In this level, only very loud ambient noises and sounds can be heard.

Hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed.

The term conductive hearing loss is used to refer to hearing loss in the middle and outer ear, which limits the sound waves going to the inner ear.

It affects all frequencies uniformly, and can be treated with special hearing aids or medical treatments.

Sensorineural refers to sensory loss in the inner ear and damage to the auditory nerves. It's irreversible, and affects some frequencies more than others.

It can be treated, depending on the level of damage, with cochlear implants or hearing aids.

Mixed is a combination of both.

How to detect hearing loss?

Health-auditory hearing loss

Hearing loss caused by improper use of headphones and noise pollution is gradual and cumulative, making it difficult to detect in time.

The easiest way to find out if you suffer from hearing loss is to take an online test, such as the ones offered by Resound, or take a tonal audiometry test.

Audiometry is a clinical test that can detect if you suffer from any type of hearing loss. If you or a young family member experience any of the following symptoms, we recommend that you promptly see an ear doctor (otolaryngologist):

  • If you feel ringing, hissing or buzzing in your ears.
  • Difficulty understanding conversations in noisy places.
  • If you hear dull or muffled sounds.
  • If you need to listen to the radio or TV at very high volumes.

Treatments for hearing loss

Unfortunately, hearing loss caused by exposure to very loud sounds or noises is irreversible.

If you already suffer from severe or profound hearing loss , you can use cochlear implants, or special hearing aids for deafness.

These amplify sounds and help you hear better, but you cannot reverse the damage to your ears. This is why prevention is so important.

How can you prevent hearing loss due to noise pollution?

Hearing loss due to noise pollution can be prevented in most cases. These are some of the indications that you can follow to avoid hearing loss.

We have already mentioned some of them, but it doesn't hurt to repeat them:

Ear plugs and ear protectors

If you work in a noisy environment and must continuously expose yourself to hazardous sound levels, we recommend that you wear earplugs or ear protectors.

There are many comfortable and affordable models on the market, from protective headphones for people who are exposed to loud noises at work, to earplugs for concerts and workers. These options can protect your ears in environments such as concerts, festivals, noisy bars, etc.

Get the right headphones

Over-ear headphones provide the greatest safety for the ears, as they rest further away from the ear canal. They are also more comfortable.

If you frequent noisy environments and can't hear your music, don't turn up the volume. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones is the ideal option to protect your ears and isolate you from external noise.

There are many excellent models on the market, such as the Bose 700 or the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Controls, volume and exposure

Headphones for hearing health

Most MP3 players and smartphones emit very loud sounds, and as we've mentioned, hearing loss caused by prolonged exposure to dangerous volumes is irreversible.

To avoid this, you can follow the 60/60 rule. These numbers indicate that we should limit ourselves to 60% of the volume of our equipment, for 60 minutes a day.

Remember to rest your ears and maintain a safe volume. If you use your players at 80 dB, try not to exceed 40 hours per week.

If you use them at 89 dB, do not exceed 5 hours per week. Playback at 95 Db a should be limited to 15 minutes per day.

Annual hearing check-ups

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, try to go to a specialized center as soon as possible.

As we said, hearing loss or partial deafness caused by noise pollution is irreversible, so a timely check-up can save you many problems in the future.

You can take a free online hearing test to make sure your ears are working well. However, if you have a history of deafness in the family, or you work in excessively noisy environments, it's advisable to go for a hearing check-up once a year.

If you have already turned 50, it's also necessary to go at least once a year.

We leave you with a video that provides some more information about hearing loss. If you are looking for information about headphones, loudspeakers or any sound equipment, you can check out our page Cultura Sonora.

There we write in-depth reviews of the best options on the market.

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