Sometimes people who love listening to a lot of music or use headphones for watching TV ask this question. Or, concerned parents of kids or teens who seem to live with headphones in their ears. These days we also hear this question from people who work from home and conduct lots of meetings via video conferencing platforms and use headsets all day long.
Many people, including myself, use the terms headphones and earphones interchangeably. Technically, headphones are those which are worn over the head sitting on top of, or covering the ears, while earphones are normally put into each ear.
So, what are the risks associated with the use of headphones and which headphones are better than others?
Damaging Noise Levels
If we take the advice of the Government Department Safe Work Australia as a guideline, a worker in an industrial context should not be exposed to more than 85dB (A) of noise for 8hr. It does not matter what kind of noise or what context. Even some kindergarten teachers are exposed to that level. If the noise level exceeds 85dB (A) and the worker is repeatedly exposed to this scenario it is deemed damaging to the ears and hearing loss is very likely to occur over time. 85dB(A) is loud traffic noise or a freight train at 30m distance. As the noise increased the safe exposure time reduces by 50% for every 3dB added. A normal conversation is around 60dB and one can be exposed to it for well over 12 hours a day without the risk of hearing loss – independent of that being live speech or via headset.
Headphones or Earphones?
Generally speaking, headphones deliver superior sound quality. Due to the larger built, they often sound a lot smoother and operate in a broad frequency range. Headphones are often a lot more comfortable too as nothing is squeezed into the ears.
Earphones are great for mobile travelling as they are easily stowed in a pocket or handbag, but more and more people go towards headphones due to the better sound.
Active Noise Cancelling – With or Without?
Active Noise Cancelling is a technology which has been around for some years. It is a built-in algorithm in many earphones or headphones which can reduce the noise from the outside by up to 20dB(A) which is very significant. Not only is the outside sound softer, but we don’t need to crank up the volume as much. Most people like setting their listening volume to a level somewhat above the ambient noise level. By reducing that noise level, we can decrease the listening level of music to even safer levels. I am personally a fan of noise-cancelling headphones or earphones as they are much safer for the ears. But, keep in mind that such devices used in traffic may significantly reduce environmental awareness and should be used with caution if at all.
If you use headphones on maximum volume for long periods of time hearing loss may occur over time. A good guide is that if you can’t hear someone talking to you when you have the music on you should not use it for extended periods of time. If headphones are used at normal conversation level, they do not damage the ears and can be used all day long if need be. However, give your ears a bit of a break and let them breathe, as even ears can sweat when they are plugged up for too long. There is a lot more to be said about earphones and headphones, so feel free to reach out with any question you may have.