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Don't let working from home damage your hearing

Many people are turning to earbuds or headphones to avoid distractions or keep conversations private.

With so many people working, learning, and playing at home during the coronavirus pandemic, many are turning to earbuds or headphones to avoid distractions or keep conversations private.

However, audiologists at Minnesota-based Starkey caution that this trend could also lead to permanent hearing damage.

"Exposure to loud noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss," said Dr. Sara Burdak, Chief Audiology Officer at Starkey. "Headphones or earbuds can emit a maximum sound anywhere from 85 to 110 decibels or more. At just 100 decibels, 15 minutes of exposure can be damaging to your hearing."

Burdak recommends using headphones over earbuds.

"When the source of the sound is in your ear canal, like earbuds, the sound’s volume can increase by 6 to 9 decibels," Dr. Burdak said. "Noise-cancelling headphones would be best, as they reduce ambient noise, allowing you to hear clearly at a lower volume."

Audiologists warn that once you've damaged your hearing, it cannot be fixed.

"Once you damage your hearing, there is no way to repair it," Dr. Burdak said. "Listening to loud noise can overwork the hair cells in your ear, which can cause them to die. Once they are damaged, those cells do not regenerate themselves. However, noise-induced hearing loss is preventable!"

Starkey says some signs of noise-induced hearing loss include:

  • If you set your TV or devices to a volume that others find too loud.
  • If you’re continually asking people to repeat themselves.
  • If you have trouble understanding conversations in noisy environments.

Dr. Burdak says a big key to preventing hearing loss is turning down the volume with earbuds or headphones.

"At Starkey, we typically say, anything below 75 decibels is considered safe," Dr. Burdak said. "For reference, a typical conversation is around 60 decibels, and a lawnmower is around 90. Also, take breaks from listening. The longer you listen to loud sounds, the more likely you will cause damage."

Burdak also suggests following the "60/60 rule," by limiting listening to 60 minutes at volume levels below 60%.

"As a parent, if you can hear the song your child is listening to while they’re wearing earbuds or can easily decipher the conversation they are having, that’s a sign the volume needs to be turned down," Burdak said.

If you’re curious about your hearing, Starkey offers a free hearing test on its website.