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How Do Headphones Damage Your Hearing & Is The Hearing Damage Permanent?

It has become a norm these days to see people of all ages walking around listening to loud music on headphones. Even children have taken to listening to music or playing their games on their smartphones or tablets wearing headphones and having the volume turned up as loud as they can. Many people often also tend to turn up their volumes after having gone through a bad day or to simply distract themselves from things that are bothering them. However, most people remain unaware that wearing headphones can actually damage your hearing. Experts from the University of Leicester have now shown evidence that wearing headphones and listening to music with the volume turned up too high can actually cause damage to your hearing, even leading to temporary to permanent deafness. Let us explore further how headphones can cause damage to your hearing.

How Do Headphones Damage Your Hearing?

How Do Headphones Damage Your Hearing?

Yes, headphones do damage your hearing, but it is actually the noise from the headphones that causes damage to your ears. Research from the University of Leicester has shown proof that when you listen to music on your headphones with the volume turned up too high, it causes damage to the coating of the nerve cells that are present in your ears. Over a period of time, this can eventually cause deafness. The research showed that the high volume of music in a headphone has a noise level that is similar to that of a jet engine. Tinnitus, which is a condition that presents as a constant buzzing or ringing in the ears, and temporary deafness have been proven to be caused by noises that are louder than 110 decibels. The research conducted at the University of Leicester looked at the impact of loud noises on hearing loss. It was found that the nerve cells present in the ears, which carry the electrical signals from the ears to the brain, is coated by a myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is actually what helps these electrical signals to travel along the nerve cells to reach the brain. Exposure to loud noise (over 100 decibels) over a period of time strips the nerve cells of this myelin sheath. This renders them incapable of passing or transmitting the information successfully from the ears to the brain; and this is how the hearing gets damaged from the use of headphones.

Is The Hearing Damage From The Headphones Permanent?

Is The Hearing Damage From The Headphones Permanent?

However, the good news is the deafness caused in these scenarios, such as from the use of headphones is not permanent. A person can get back their normal hearing once the myelin coating that surrounds the nerve cells reforms and allows the auditory nerve cells to function normally again. Therefore, the hearing loss is only temporary, but nevertheless, it is a worrying condition.

Do In-Ear Earbuds also Damage the Ear/Hearing? If So Why?

The debate continues to rage on whether earbuds are better or headphones are better? Due to their compact size and easy to carry nature, most people prefer to use earbuds over headphones. There is no doubt that earbuds are helpful devices, but this is only as long as you use them at low volumes. Similar to headphones, in-ear earbuds are also just a pair of speakers, but the difference is that you are wearing these devices inside your ears, bringing them all the more closer to your auditory nerve cells. Loud music being played this close to your eardrum may lead to a permanent hearing loss. This is perhaps the biggest difference between wearing headphones and earbuds. Deafness caused by wearing headphones is temporary, while earbuds can lead to a permanent loss of hearing.

It may seem weird that such a small device such as an earbud can cause damage to your hearing. However, the reason for the damage lies in the level of volume you listen to your music at. For example, studies have shown that an average MP3 player when played at 70% of its maximum volume can cause damage to a person’s ears after 45 minutes of listening. Even 70% of a player’s top volume creates about 85 decibels of sound. When you turn up the volume and listen to this for prolonged periods of time, you are putting yourself in a danger of permanent hearing loss with earbuds.

When you wear earbuds, you play the loud sound much closer to your inner ear. The cochlea, a part of the inner ear, contains many tiny hair cells which are responsible for transmitting auditory messages to your brain. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause damage to these hair cells. When these hair cells get damaged, it affects the cochlea. The cochlea is then unable to pass on any sound messages to the brain, causing deafness. This is the reason why this type of deafness o hearing damage is permanent because the damage to the inner ear never heals unlike damage to other parts of the body.

What Type Of Hearing Loss Do The Use Of Earbuds Or Headphones Cause?

The resulting hearing loss from earbuds or headphones is known as a noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL. This is generally known to be a problem amongst teenagers and children.

Conclusion: Use Earbuds or Headphones in Moderation

If you want to use headphones and also want to preserve your hearing, it is recommended that you use earbuds or headphones in moderation. Doctors also recommend the 60%/60-minute rule. This refers to the following:

  • Limiting the amount of time you ear earbuds or headphone to just 60 minutes.
  • When you listen to music or play a movie, keep the volume at no more than 60% of the maximum level that is there.

A general rule of thumb to understand if your volume is at the right level is to ask people sitting near you whether or not they can hear your music. If they hear what you are listening to, this means that your volume is too high and there is a potential of having your hearing damaged. Turn the volume down to a level where people around you can no longer hear the music. By following certain guidelines, you can enjoy listening to music on your earbuds or headphones, and at the same time, preserve your hearing as well.


  1. University of Leicester: https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2016/may/excessive-use-of-headphones-could-cause-temporary-and-permanent-deafness
  2. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA): https://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Can-You-Hear-Me-Now-How-earbuds-and-headphones-affect-hearing/
  3. Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tinnitus/symptoms-causes/syc-20350156
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/what_noises_cause_hearing_loss.html
  5. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD): https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss
  6. Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/earbuds-how-safe-are-they-2016090910279

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 5, 2023

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