Protect your hearing: Limit the volume on your devices

Young adult male using headphones with a laptop and cell phone

More than 1 billion young people could be at risk of hearing loss because of unsafe listening practices, a recent study shows.

The louder the noise, the shorter the time it takes to do damage. If you’re having a conversation with someone in person, you’ll be talking at 50 to 60 decibels. A blow dryer puts out about 90 decibels of sound. At a concert, sound could be as high as 120 decibels. Without wearing ear plugs, you could permanently harm your hearing — even if the concert only lasted a couple of hours.

How hearing loss happens

If the volume on your phone or iPad is too high, you could be damaging cells in your inner ear. And that can lead to hearing loss, possibly permanent hearing loss.

Sound causes the hair cells in your ear to vibrate. If the sound is too loud over a period of months or years, or if it’s very loud — even just for 10 minutes — the hair cells in your inner ear can get overworked and die. When they die, they don’t get replaced. If enough of them die, you’ll have major hearing loss, and you don’t typically recover from hearing loss caused by loud noise.

Your hearing loss may go unnoticed for a while until it becomes a serious problem, and you need hearing aids.

Hearing loss in young people

We’ve all had the experience of sitting next to someone with earbuds on a flight or a bus or in a meeting, and we can hear what they’re listening to. It may be annoying for you. For them, it’s dangerous — that’s way too loud. With young people so tuned into phones and other devices these days, it’s important for them to be cautious with the volume.

The leading cause of hearing loss in healthy young adults is being exposed to excessive, unhealthy levels of noise. It’s hard to say how common hearing loss is among young people because hearing loss is considered a “silent disease.” You don’t know about until you have problems understanding people who talk at work, at home or at school. Hearing aids are expensive, and sometimes people don’t get them because they feel self-conscious about wearing them. These people may have very mild levels of hearing loss that don’t show up on a standard hearing test. But when they’re 50 or 60, they’ll seek out hearing aids.

Are headphones or earbuds more dangerous than ambient sound because they go directly into your ear?

No. What matters is the sound level. You could be listening to sound that’s too loud with or without headphones.

What are other risk factors for hearing loss?

Along with loud noise, you’re at higher risk for hearing loss if you have certain genetic factors or have taken certain medications. Those medications include chemotherapy, blood pressure medications used at very high doses and antibiotics such as Gentamicin, which can be used to treat meningitis or other serious infections.

Hearing loss is also a natural part of aging. You might not notice it until you’re in your 60s or maybe not until you’re in your 70s or 80s. Some people have terrible hearing in their 30s and 40s, but most often people are between 50 and 70 when they seek hearing aids. If you have hearing loss earlier in your life because of being exposed to loud noise, you’ll likely speed up the process of natural age-related hearing loss.

Can hearing loss cause ringing in your ears?

Yes, ringing in your ears (tinnitus) can happen in one or both ears because of hearing loss, and there’s no cure for it. Some people, over time, are no longer bothered by the ringing. You can try biofeedback and other strategies to help your brain tune out the sound, but it doesn’t go away completely.

How can I prevent hearing loss from getting worse?

No medication or supplement has proven to slow down or reverse hearing loss. The key to preventing further hearing loss is in part through limiting the volume of the noise you’re exposed to.

Are hearing loss and dementia related?

Hearing loss is one of the main predictors of dementia. If your hearing is impaired, you have a greater risk of dementia. So wearing hearing aids, if you need them, is very important to keep your brain healthy. When your hearing is compromised as a senior, you’re also at greater risk of falling, because your ears play a role in your balance.

Do you recommend a hearing test every year?

No. You don’t need hearing tests like you need regular screenings for colon or breast cancer. But if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s worth having a hearing test.


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