How to Protect Hearing from Personal Listening Earbuds & Headphones Ages 12 to Adult

[revised 11/25/17] Half of “loudness limiting” headphones packaged as safe for kids don’t work to protect hearing from personal listening. Link to Safe Personal Listening Loudness Limiting Headphones for Children Ages 2 to 12. For older ages, currently there is no safe independently verified loudness limiting earbuds or headphones being manufactured.  How do you know if you’re damaging your hearing or not at the volume you use for personal listening? Scientists studied the iPod with earbud, isolator, supra-aural and iPod stock earphones finding:

  • No difference between earbuds or headphones in hearing damage risk.
  • The safest are any earbuds/headphones with noise cancelling or noise isolating feature, because users are able to keep the volume lower when environmental sound is tuned out.
  • headphones 50% volume = no listening time limit
  • earbuds 50% volume = no listening time limit
  • stock earbuds 50% volume = no listening time limit
  • noise cancelling earbuds 50% volume = no listening time limit

The flat stock earbuds [left] don’t fit as well and usually need to be turned up louder than earbud styles that fit into the ear canal opening [middle] or the deeper ear canal  style that can be heard better at a lower volume even if it’s not specifically advertised as sound isolating [right].

Listening below 50% volume is considered safe for personal listening using earbuds or headphones. I use about 30% volume. I taught my kids to stick around 30% and never to go above 50% volume even for favourite songs that may get turned up loud.

The problem isn’t really with the device. Devices need higher volume when connected to speakers. The problem is the earbuds and headphones. All they need for safe unlimited  personal listening is an engineering fix. In Make Listening Safe, the WHO recommends max 85 dBA avg and 100 dB max. Imagine if that happened for all personal listening earbuds and headphones. Products that limit loudness as claimed by manufacturers. Maybe one day…If consumers advocate and demand the safe product they want for everybody from children to seniors.

The Journal of the American Pediatric Association declined to publish a paper on hearing loss risk in children from personal listening headphones that don’t safely limit loudness as advertised by manufacturers. A top manufacturers association in the USA said false advertising is not their problem. How does the general public get governments to regulate loudness limits on earbud/headphone manufacturers including independent quality control to make sure the product works safely as claimed and protect consumers?

Do you think governments should require manufacturers to make earbuds and headphones with safe listening volume no matter how long a person listens?

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Note: Active Noise Cancellation is for low to moderate not hazardous steady background noise or hum of activity e.g. traveling by airplane, transit, office noise.
Review: The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones

Jan L. Mayes MSc writes horror fiction and non-fiction, and is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author, blogger and audiologist specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, hearing health education and plotting murders. Her writing has been featured at Tinnitus Today, Communique, and The Horror News Daily.

Photo Credit at Unsplash