CAN EARBUDS OR HEADPHONES DAMAGE YOUR EARS.   As improbable as it may seem, earbuds and headphones can, in fact, damage your hearing in a similar fashion as concerts, power tools and musical instruments. It may seem odd but earbuds and headphones are small in size and can pack a serious punch. With that said, the damage is not only from the volume intensity but from the length of time you spend listening to the devices   as well.  Hearing loss from earbuds and/or headphones or any harmful noise source is defined as noise-induced hearing loss (Aka: NIHL). According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the use of headphones and earbuds has led to a major increase in the prevalence of hearing loss in adolescents and young adults. Other recent research has shown that people, specifically our youth, are becoming deaf a lot earlier than our parents and grandparents. We found that the main factor was exposure to environmental noise. Innovation and scientific advancement have added to the escalation of environmental and artificially created noise levels. Many experts believe the escalation is due, in part, to the extended use of earphones while listening to music and videos, particularly in the youth population. If we don’t educate our children to use these devices safely, the outcome will lead to an extensive amount of hearing impairment. It is imperative to understand that most devices often exceed sound output levels of 110dB and that these levels are undoubtedly potent enough to harm your Hearing with a single instant. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends an 85-dB limit for an average daily 8-hour exposure and a 3-dB exchange rate, which means that each increase of 3 dB in exposure level reduces the recommended exposure time by half. Thus, an 88-dB exposure limit is recommended for up to 4 hours and a 91-dB exposure limit for 2 hours. The National Hearing Conservation Association 85-3 Coalition, an organization of worker, professional, and industrial hygiene associations, promotes the use of an 85-dB limit and 3-dB exchange rate to protect the hearing of workers. So how loud and how long should you listen to your earbuds and/or headphones? I recommend keeping sound levels at somewhere between 55 and 65 decibels (conversational levels) to minimize noise-induced hearing loss. Remember to always include a rest period of 2 hours after one hour of continuous use.  If you must listen to music at around 100 decibels, which I highly discourage, make sure to restrict your usage to 15 mins or less. A safe way to set un-harmful volume levels for earbud and headphone is to set it somewhere between one-half and one-fourth of the minimum volume. Also, keep in mind that proper placement matters. Appropriately fit devices will not allow ambient noise to compete with your sound source resulting in less volume intensity to reach your optimal listening levels. Remember that volume levels can fluctuate from recording to recording, so be ready to adjust your volume settings. If parents want to take a proactive approach, begin by limiting the volume on your child’s phone or tablet. If this is not possible, consider purchasing special headphones with volume limiting that are designed for children. Remember that the right size is more effective at blocking external noise and in some instances can serve as an earmuff. On an iPhone, you can find the volume limit feature in Settings, under Music tab. Turn on the Volume Limit on the playback options (left). You’re immediately taken to a volume control (right) that you can adjust to set the maximum volume levels (I suggest just under half way). iPhone-Volume-Limit.jpgIn summary, the truth is that it is important for us to be mindful on the use of earbuds and headphones. Know the basics and teach your children responsible listening habits. Be aware that prolonged exposure to higher volumes is damaging and that your ears need rest and time to recover. Let’s not forget that as adults, it’s our responsibility to keep our youth safe and free from noise-induced hearing loss.   To conclude, noise pollution has become a way of life and hearing damage is inevitable unless you practice safe hearing.   Andres Godinez Au.D. Doctor of Audiology