Hearing Loss: Are Your Headphones To Blame?

Hearing Loss: Is Your Headphone To Blame?
Hearing Loss: Is Your Headphone To Blame?

Curejoy Expert Dipti Mothay Explains:

Hearing loss is a common problem that often develops with age or is caused by repeated exposure to loud noises. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 50 percent of young adults are exposed to potentially unsafe levels of sound from their personal audio devices [1].


Mechanism Of Hearing

To understand how headphones can damage hearing, we should understand the process of hearing first.

  • Sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through the ear canal, which leads to the eardrum.
  • The eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves and sends these vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear, which couple the sound vibrations from the air to fluid vibrations in the cochlea of the inner ear.
  • Once the vibration cause the fluid inside the cochlea to ripple, the hair cells which are sensory cells present on top of the basilar membrane starts moving up and down.
  • Due to this movement, the pore-like channels, present at the tips of the hair-like projections open up.
  • This causes the generation of an electrical signal, which the auditory nerve carries to the brain, which in turn gets translated into sound [2].

How Headphones Cause Hearing Loss?

Portable players nowadays can produce around 90-120 decibels (dB) and headphones are better at external noise cancellation than even before. And with increasing storage available on these devices we are attached to our headphones even longer. Headphones deliver excessive sound into the ear that can cause damage and eventual death of the hair cells mentioned above, which can lead to hearing loss.


Doctors say that listening at maximum volume for even an hour can lead to short term and long term hearing problems. Kids exposed to loud volumes can experience developmental delays in speech and language.

The following symptoms may indicate hearing problems:

  • Ringing, hissing or buzzing in the ear
  • Difficulty understanding speech in noisy places or places with poor acoustics
  • Muffled sounds or stuffy feeling in your ears.
  • Progressively increasing your TV and audio volume.

Avoid listening to headphones at volumes > 60% of the max volume more than 60 mins a day. Consequently you need to decrease your listening time if you decide to up the volume.

Sadly most hearing problems are irreversible so prevention is your best bet.


Other Causes Of Hearing Loss

Certain conditions including illness, medications, genetics or age may contribute to hearing loss. People suffering from viral infections of the inner ear and the auditory nerve,  meningitis (infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), a head injury, an autoimmune condition, malformation of the ear, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease are at increased risk of hearing loss.

Tips To Reduce Impact Of High Volume

  1. One way to test if your headphone volume is accurate is by checking if the person standing near you can hear the music through your headphones. If yes, the volume may be too loud.
  2. It is advisable to turn down the volume and to decrease the amount of time you use headphones.
  3. Take breaks between listening.
  4. Stay away from in-the-ear headphones, which sit much closer to the ear drum and get much louder.
  5. Use smartphone apps to monitor safe listening levels and get regular check-ups.


  1. 1.1 billion people at risk of hearing loss, World Health Organization
  2. Noise-induced hearing loss, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
  3. Hearing loss and music, National Institute of Health, U.S National Library of Medicine
  4. Age-related hearing loss: current research- Gratton MA and Vázquez AE.2003
  5. Hearing Loss and Headphones – Is Anyone Listening?. American Osteopathic Association