Do headphones damage hearing?

Most of us spend an unhealthy amount of time wearing headphones or earphones every day. Headphones and earphones provide a necessary escape from the outside world and they create a sense of privacy. This way you can listen to and watch whatever you want, whenever you want without having to worry about whether you are bothering other people. Plus, they just make everything sound better. Who would not want a more immersive experience? 

But, you are here because you are wondering whether all this time you spend with your earphones or headphones in can come back to bite you in the future. Can your headphones damage your hearing? As we become more and more dependent on technology headphone use is almost unavoidable. Whether your teacher asks you to wear them while watching an educational video in class, or whether you need them to get some work done in a cafe… you might not have a choice. 

Well, you may already know that having your headphones above a certain volume is dangerous. Your phone will even send you an alert to warn you that you are crossing the sound limit. However, it turns out that any damage is not solely dependent on your volume level but how long you wear them can also be a contributing factor. This can be a cause for hearing loss later as you age. 

How do headphones damage your hearing? 


Our ears are extremely sensitive organs that require careful attention in order to stay in their best shape. Yes, sounds alert us of what is happening in our environment. They can also be the key to having a completely immersive experience. Whether this is when you are listening to your favorite album or watching your favorite season. How much you can hear and how clearly you can hear it is essential. 

However, there are tons of tiny cells in your ear that are easily susceptible to damage. Especially when you are wearing earphones or headphones that send sound waves directly into your already sensitive inner ear. Extremely loud volumes can damage these inner ear cells which mess with the transmission of sound from what you hear to your brain. In some cases, this damage can be permanent. 

To summarize, any sound that is too loud is going to do some sort of damage to your ears. Therefore yes, headphones, especially at loud volumes can cause damage to your hearing. 

What does hearing loss really mean? 

Hearing loss is usually associated with old age. So how does this translate to people who use headphones or earphones at loud volumes for prolonged periods of time? Research has shown that younger people who expose their ears to unhealthy levels of audio will be as hard of hearing by their mid-forties as people who do not would be in their mid-seventies and eighties. As the old cliche goes: Prevention is better than cure. So how do you make sure that you are being as preventative as possible? How do you minimize the possibility of hearing loss while wearing headphones?  

When is your volume too loud? 

There are two primary ways that headphones can cause damage to your hearing. Either, you have to be exposed to an extremely loud sound source one or more commonly you have to develop regular detrimental listening habits. Continuous exposure is a common cause of audio device-related hearing loss.

Sound is measured in decibels and it has been proven that any sound below seventy decibels is not likely to cause hearing loss, even after a long time. Whereas, being exposed to sounds above eight five especially for longer periods of time can cause damage to your hearing. 

But, we do not all walk around with a sound meter just in case. So, how do you make sure you are staying within reasonable limits? Firstly, if you have to shout to hear or be heard, then it is probably too loud! If you are listening to anything through your phone or laptop, a good starting point is to keep any audio volume below fifty percent. While also making sure that you do not keep your earphones or headphones for too long.

When have you been listening for too long? 


If you are going to be listening to anything above seventy-five decibels, the shorter the better. How long do you usually listen to music? This will put into perspective how much damage can be done if your volume is above the recommended limit. The occupational safety and health administration requires that any employee who is exposed to sounds of eighty-five decibels or highs for anything longer than eight hours is required hearing protection.

This proves that the key is balance. Clearly, we use our headphones and earphones for longer than we realize. It might be more difficult to shorten this time than to simply monitor your volume levels. If you couple this with hearing protection you will significantly decrease your chances of damaging your hearing. 

In-ear headphones vs Over-ear headphones 


In-ear headphones (supra-aural headphones) are usually smaller, thinner portable earbud tips. They have to be inserted directly into your ear canal. Whereas, over-ear headphones (circumaural headphones) are usually thick banded, large cups that cover your entire outer ear. 

Although in-ears are more portable, because they are placed directly into your ear canal, they can be more damaging when subject to louder volumes over time. Prolonged exposure is going to be detrimental regardless of the type of earphones. But over-ear headphones may be a better choice as they are further away from your ear canal. 

How to prevent hearing loss from headphones

1) Purchase closed back instead of open back headphones

Open-back headphones are typically used in studios. They allow air to pass through the headphone, which reduces pressure build-up on the eardrum, but they also let out more noise, making them unsafe for use around others.

 2) Don’t use headphones at a high volume

 Listening at excessively high volumes damages the tiny hair cells of the inner ear that transform sounds into electric signals that reach our brains. The result is hearing loss and ringing in your ears (tinnitus). Even though some headphones have volume control built-in, you still should always be careful never to play music too loudly. 

Get a pair of noise-canceling headphones which will cancel out surrounding noises and force you to keep the volume lower.

  3) Limit listening time

So how long should you wear headphones a day? The recommended maximum amount of time one should wear headphones is about 60 minutes. Any more than that without an hour break will be too long and can cause damage to your ears. Also, limit the number of days you use headphones during the week.

  4) Be careful with earbuds

Earbuds are very popular, but they can do serious damage to your hearing if played at high volumes. Because they fit inside the ear canal, they create a much tighter seal around sound waves than larger closed-back headphone speakers, which increases output levels even when it’s at low volume level. To save your ears from potential eardrum rupture or tinnitus, keep music playing levels at 60% of maximum or less and take plenty of breaks.

Early signs of hearing loss


One of the more obvious signs is constantly feeling like you are struggling to hear things or people that were once easy to hear. This could also mean that everything or everyone feels softer or distorted. This can also occur in noisier places or quieter places depending on the severity of the hearing loss. 

Tinnitus is also an early warning sign of hearing damage. Tinnitus is characterized by hearing a ringing noise in one or both of your ears. This is specifically an internal noise that other people usually cannot hear too. The noise can also be roaring, buzzing, hissing, or whistling and it can be continuous or sporadic. 

In conclusion, hearing damage is almost unavoidable with the continued use of headphones and earphones. However, there are measures you can take to minimize damage and protect your ears. As you continue to expose yourself to high levels of noise, make sure to have your hearing checked as often as possible by a specialist. This is the best way to take precautions against any irreversible damage. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is it safe to listen to music through headphones in one sitting

The recommended maximum amount of time one should wear headphones is about 60 minutes. Any more than that will be too long and can cause damage to your ears.

Does wearing headphones increase bacteria in the ear

Yes, when you put on headphones, you are preventing your ears from natural air, which increases bacteria formation in your ears by over 700 times when used for more than an hour.

Do headphones increase ear wax?

No, the headphones do not usually result in increased wax production. Instead, they interrupt the airflow in the ear canal, which can result in wax buildup.

Written by Panashe

I'm Panashe Hwata - a computer science student with an unabashed love for technology and captivating audio. As the owner of this blog, I'm thrilled to share my passion for exploring the world of premium sound and cutting-edge tech with all of you. Join me on this exhilarating journey as we dive into the captivating world of audio excellence