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How to stop your headphones from damaging your hearing

By Sophie Aubrey

July 11, 2021 — 6.00 am

With our lives increasingly spent plugged into our phones and computers, you may find your ears frequently sporting headphones.

As it stands, one in six Australians suffers from hearing loss, and the number is expected to rise to one in four by 2050, says Professor David McAlpine, the academic director of Macquarie University Hearing. And while headphones can’t shoulder all the blame, McAlpine says we shouldn’t underestimate their role in the problem.

A Japanese study, published in March in The Lancet Regional Health, examined 30,000 people and found that the hearing of people in their 40s and younger have become progressively worse in the last 20 years. The researchers suggest that chronic noise exposure from portable audio devices may be a key risk factor, which the World Health Organisation has also warned about.

“If we’re seeing more hearing loss the question is ‘why are we seeing more?’, and we have to think about the changes in our hearing and listening habits,” says Dr Peter Carew, a University of Melbourne audiology lecturer.

While workplace guidelines for safe noise exposure have been in place for a long time, Carew says, a big change has been our increased use of headphones: be it to commute, to support more screen time at work and play, or to create space for ourselves in shared areas, including the home.

The trouble is that the volume on headphones can go louder than 100 decibels, and this can cause hearing damage after just 15 minutes of listening. “Many people assume devices they use are safe and have built-in protection that means you can just enjoy it. It’s not the case,” Carew says.

Once the damage is done to your hearing, it’s irreversible, Carew says, so it’s best to protect what you have.

McAlpine explains that the intensity of the volume, and the duration you’re listening for, are the two most important factors. People can safely listen to 85 decibels for eight hours, but every time you go up three decibels, you have to halve the amount of time that’s safe. So at 94 decibels, you’re limited to one hour.

Of course, most of us can’t accurately tell the difference between decibels, and our perception of sound can be distorted depending on how noisy our environment is. But there are simple things you can do.

To read more click the link to Sophie’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald, she goes with tips on how to set up your headphones to help decrease the damage to your ears.

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