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by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Here is another article about the dangers of using headphones for hearing. I disagree with the author’s statement that “[t]here’s nothing inherently dangerous about using headphones.” That reminds me of statements in the 1950s and early 1960s that asserted there was nothing inherently dangerous about smoking cigarettes.

I think headphones and earbuds are inherently dangerous and shouldn’t be used except for noise-cancelling headphones used in noisy situations such as aircraft cabins.

Very few headphone users worry much about the sound volume when listening to music or a podcast or book, and the natural tendency is to turn up the volume enough to be able to hear what one is listening to. There is no meter on the personal audio device to let one know what the audio output is in decibels. And there is no audio dosimeter installed on most personal audio devices, be they MP3 players or smart phones, to let the user know the time-weighted average sound exposure that day or week from the device. Even if one has this type of dosimeter–several are reportedly in the development stage–they don’t measure all noise exposure, so they may give a false sense of security.

The other quibble with this article, from the UK, is that it uses the UK and EU occupational noise exposure standard of 80 decibels as a safe noise exposure level. The UK standard is technically 80 dBA, which is safer than the 85 dBA standard used in the U.S., but it is not a safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 dB for 24 hours, and even that may be too high.