Hearing Loss and Headphones

The hearing loss associated with certain professions is well documented. Rock stars, flight crews and construction workers come to mind first. Employees who are exposed to repetitive noise at certain decibel levels for extended periods of time are required to wear hearing protection.

But there are other jobs where hearing loss is also an issue. For instance, radio personalities who have been in the business for many years, complain about hearing loss. Nightclub DJs and sound designers are a few more professions where using headphones puts them in danger of damaging their hearing.

Because of the proximity to your ear, using headphones can cause a significant amount of damage even with a shorter exposure time. Simply listening to music through headphones at levels higher than you need to hear a normal conversation, can begin to cause damage. Audio engineers are at increased risk because they tend to turn up the volume in order to hear details.

How the damage is done

When noise is too loud, it begins to damage the nerve endings in the inner ear. Basically, exposure to noises with amplitudes greater than 90 decibels can cause permanent damage.

The nerve cells that carry electrical signals from your ears to your brain have a coating called the myelin sheath. This sheath helps electrical signals travel along the cell. Exposure to loud noises strips the cells of this coating, which disrupts the electrical signals. The nerves can no longer transmit information efficiently from the ears to the brain.

The warning signs

The pain threshold for hearing is about 120 decibels. However, damage can be done at much lower levels, somewhere around 85 decibels, depending on the individual. Ringing in your ear is a typical warning sign that some damage is being done. After exposure to loud noise, you may experience tinnitus, which is a low level buzzing for extended periods of time.

How to prevent hearing loss

Set your headphones at safe volume levels. If someone next to you can hear the music, it’s too loud. If you can’t hear someone nearby who is speaking at a normal, conversational level, it’s too loud. Buy a digital sound level meter … and use it. They’re inexpensive and you can pick them up practically anywhere. Get your hearing tested often. Your ears are vital to doing your job effectively. Take care of your hearing. Even when you have some seemingly insignificant problem, see a doctor. Hearing loss is preventable and good hearing is essential for your chosen profession.

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