Photo credit: Soulful Pizza

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition does not endorse products or manufacturers and has no commercial or other relationships with any company or other organization, helping guarantee our independence.

So I write somewhat hesitantly about The New York Times Wirecutter’s article about the three best wireless Bluetooth earbuds for 2022, both because of the Wirecutter site–it obtains revenue if people order the products recommended or mentioned through the links in the online article–but I think it’s important to spread the word that earbud use–and headphone use, for that matter–may not be safe for auditory health.

Why not? To overcome ambient noise–background noise on the street, in a coffee shop or store, etc.–users have to turn up the volume above 70 decibels. With noise colleague Jan Mayes, I wrote two relevant articles based on our presentations at last year’s Acoustical Society of America meeting. The article based on my presentation made the point that noise exposure in everyday life is sufficient to cause noise-induced hearing loss. The one based on Jan’s presentation reviewed the dangers of personal audio systems–also called personal music players or personal listening devices–to hearing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, that’s enough to cause hearing loss. Any sounds above 70 decibels can cause noise-induced hearing loss, the only form of hearing loss that’s entirely preventable.

And once hearing is lost, there is no cure. The only treatment is amplification, i.e., hearing aids.

If you must use earbuds–and I admit that wireless Bluetooth earbuds are convenient for those who have a lot of phone calls during the day, or like to entertain themselves with audiobooks or music on their daily commute–keep the volume low and try to use them for as little time as possible each day.

Because if it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and one’s auditory health is at risk.