Do you want the the good news or the bad news first?
For those who like to crank up the volume when listening to music through headphones I have some bad news. It is very likely that you are destroying your hearing.
According to researchers at the University of Leicester, you may be damaging the myelin sheath that insulates and protects the auditory nerve fibers that are needed to hear. The good news is that the hearing loss is temporary because apparently this coating can reform and hearing is restored. Hurray!
Well… before we celebrate and turn up the Metallica to 10, I have more bad news. The inner hair cells that receive and transmit sound to the auditory pathways can also be damaged. This leads to Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) which is permanent. NIHL is increasing at an alarming rate in teenagers who seem to have ear buds permanently implanted in their ears these days! In fact, 1-6 high school students are estimated to have some degree of hearing loss, with over 50% reporting at least one hearing loss symptom.
Given we all like happy endings let me share some more good news. Scientists at the University of Sheffield have made a major research breakthrough by restoring gerbils’ hearing using human stem cells. This research means that potentially these same stem cells could be used in humans to help the deaf hear again. Indeed very exciting given more than 30 million Americans suffer from hearing loss.
We will need to stand by and watch this research unfold. In the meantime, let me provide some sound advice with my three tips for safe headphone listening.
Tip 1. Keep volume low when listening through headphones.
Why? The lower the volume, the less likely you are to damage your hearing.
Tip 2. Limit headphone listening to no more than one hour at a time.
Why? The longer you listen through headphones the more fatigued the middle ear muscles become. Auditory fatigue reduces the ear’s ability to protect the delicate inner ear hair cells from becoming damaged by loud sound.
Tip 3. Use high quality headphones that cover the ear.
Why? They sound better at lower volume allowing you to enjoy all the details of your favorite music without the risk of hearing loss. Over the ear headphones provide a more natural form of listening than an in ear headphone inserted in the ear canal. Over the ear headphones also reduce background noise allowing for lower listening volumes. What is high quality? Without getting into specifics spend at least $80, and know that generally the bigger your budget, the better the headphones.