Podcasts, music and phone calls to go: Through headphones, our ears are exposed to permanent sonication. What damage this can do and how to avoid it.
Shoes on, jacket too, headphones in – with sound in their ears, many people leave the house. Especially for commuters, headphones are an integral part of the morning and evening routine. And the loud outside noises keep you caught breaking the recommended maximum volume.
This is where the problem begins: According to the German Association for Ophthalmologists, a volume above 85 decibels is critical for the ears. This is about as noisy as a busy road, a vacuum cleaner or a lawnmower. “With headphones, this limit is exceeded very quickly,” warns Prof. Laszig, Director of the ENT Clinic Freiburg. Some devices have therefore installed a volume control that displays critical areas in color. “You should take the db information seriously and stick to them,” the ENT specialist recommends.
Permanent noise can cause permanent damage
To understand the load of headphones, you need to know how the hearing works. When the sound hits the ear, it is directed as an impulse wave via the eardrum and ear knuckles to the hearing snail. There, small hair cells convert the sound wave into bioelectric impulses, which are transmitted to the brain as hearing information. “If the sound pressure on the hair cell is too high, she stops her work,” Laszig explains. And the fewer hair cells work, the less arrives in the brain.
If you sound your hearing for 40 hours a week sound pressure levels of 80-85 decibels, this can result in hearing impairments or ear noises (tinnitus), warns the German Professional Association of Ophthalmologists. For this reason, for example, noise workers have to have a hearing test carried out after 12 hours in order to avoid a so-called permanent threshold loss, in which the hair cells no longer regenerate.
Headphones tempt you to increase the volume
Unlike other sources of noise, headphones have a special pitfall: their volume is adjustable. And unfortunately, over time, our ear wants to hear louder sounds – whether we like it or not. Because it adapts to the volume. “The longer we hear a certain level, the quieter it sounds to us,” explains Prof. Laszig. As a result, we unconsciously make the headphones louder and louder to maintain the listening experience.
This effect is the same for all headphones. However, you can trick your ears a little: with so-called noise-cancelling headphones. They shield outside noise, so a lower volume is enough to understand the noise from the headphones. “This reduces the risk of turning up completely,” says Laszig. Typically, over-ear headphones shield better than in-ear headphones. The most effective shielding is provided by noise-cancelling headphones. “But they also don’t protect against increasing the volume over time,” says Prof. Laszig.
Developing an awareness of volume
The bottom line is that headphones alone can’t do so much damage. It only becomes critical when the ears are exposed to many other sources of noise, such as traffic, machinery or rooms with many people and cannot recover. “Noise in everyday life is often underestimated,” says Laszig.
That is why the German Association of Ophthalmologists is trying to sensitize more people to their own sense of volume and has even developed its own noise app for this purpose. Because: At the end of the day, it counts whether the ear can regenerate from the sonication. And if that’s the case, you don’t have to worry. If you have an app idea you want to be developed, head to app developers london.