OHC: Personal Listening Devices & Hearing Loss


There is mounting evidence that listening to loud music for long periods of time can lead to hearing loss/NIHL. Listening to an MP3 Player at high volumes over time can cause permanent damage to hearing.

More and more, people are listening to their “personal listening devices” whether it be an iPod, an mp3 player, a cd-player or listening from their computer with headphones. Regardless, they may not be paying attention to how loud the sound is since they are listening to the music on headphones. OHC wants to bring this to your attention since this is something you may not have thought of.

While studies are demonstrating that personal listening devices are relatively low on the scale of causing hearing loss, we want to mention them since they are becoming so commonly and frequently listened to—it may be that the studies and research have not caught up with the high-technology times.

When an individual is exposed to harmful sounds—prolonged or sudden sounds that are too loud—sensitive structures of the inner ear can be damaged, causing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL is a hearing disorder characterized by a gradual loss of high frequency hearing over time as a result of exposure to excessive sounds and noise levels.

When sound is sufficient to cause hearing loss, there is usually a temporary loss of hearing sensitivity, known as temporary threshold shift (TTS). You likely have experienced this after attending a loud concert or crowd noise at an NFL game. If the ear is given time to rest (about 16 to 48 hours of relative quiet) the TTS returns to baseline hearing levels. With repeated occurrence however, this TTS may not recover, and instead turns into a permanent threshold shift in hearing. How quickly this happens varies from person to person, and depends on how loud the sound exposure was.

Sources of noise that most of us are familiar with that cause noise-induced hearing loss include motorcycles, firecrackers, and firearms. All of these can emit sounds from 120 to 150 decibels. To put this into context, long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the sooner NIHL can occur. Sounds of less than 75 decibels are generally unlikely to cause hearing loss.

So, regarding your personal listening devices—you may think that you are not at risk when listening since the speakers of your headphones are so tiny. But, considering that they are right next to the parts of your ear that detect sound—you have to be careful. The sound is going straight in with no distance or barrier, so, this is something to pay attention to.

How to gauge if you are listening at a volume that is potentially  too high? Here are some basic rules to follow if you are concerned about dangerous noise:

  • If it is necessary to shout to hear yourself or someone else over noise, the level of the sound can be damaging.

  • Should ringing in the ears occur after exposure to the music you are listening to, damage has been done, and you should take a break from listening, and lower the volume next time.

  • If diminished hearing or a sense of fullness in the ears is experienced after listening to your personal listening device, it is an indication that the level of that noise is damaging.

Protect your ears! Enjoy your music and podcasts, but do so by listening at a safe level. This message has been brought you by OHC, your hearing experts.