Posted on Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Is Your Phone Damaging Your Ears?

This ambulance light won't sound when your phone is damaging your ears.

Recently a member of the People Hearing Better staff had been listening to an Audible book on their phone when their phone informed them that they had been listening with earbuds at an unacceptable level. It then said that--for this person's own good--it was lowering the sound. All freaky references to the singularity aside, this really surprised our staffer. Not just because this person had no idea their phone cared so much, but because this person had not thought the phone sound was that high. But, then again, how was this person to know how high they had the phone? The little line on the phone screen doesn't tell deciBel levels. So how can anyone tell if our technology is hurting our ears?

According to an article in the ISRN "mobile phones are among the most popular portable media players (PMP) on the market and present an emerging health concern in both occupational and nonoccupational settings." Hearing loss caused from listening to loud sounds is called noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). In our increasingly technology driven world it is becoming more and more apparent that people need to practice safe sound. But how can you tell if your hearing has been affected? It’s not as easy as you might suspect. Hearing loss cuts us off from the world, and as this hearing survey shows, we can become oblivious to the signs. A simple test is to consider how your ears reacted after being on the phone or listening to something on your phone for a long time. If there was pain, a feeling of having your ears temporarily blocked, or you had a temporary buzzing or ringing in your ears, chances are you have experienced damaged hearing. But what does that mean?

What is Noise Induced Hearing Loss?

Noise induced hearing loss happens deep inside the ears. Inside the ear are small, delicate hairs that help conduct the noise that constitutes your hearing. Injury to these hair cells comes from exposure, sudden or prolonged, to loud noises. This can result in temporary and permanent hearing loss. With repeated exposure to loud sounds any temporary hearing loss can and will become permanent.

To guard against NIHL, you need to become familiar with and avoid dangerous decibel levels.

There is no monitor on your phone that says, “dangerous level of decibels”, but there are resources online to help acquaint yourself with hazardous noise levels. For a quick reference, the average conversation between two people tunes in at about 60 dB. A motorcycle ramps the sound up to about 75 dB—this exposure most likely wouldn’t damage hearing unless it is for an extended period of time. The highest setting on your iPod or other personal listening device can hover between 105 to 120 dB. These levels are dangerous and can damage hearing. According to USA Today, “France, the government has set a limit of 100 decibels in MP3 players, and Apple has made adjustments.” In other words, keeping the line on your phone and your iPod or other MP3 or PMP at or below the center--the midpoint between its highest and lowest setting.

In addition to setting your phone or other listening devices level at or below the midpoint, you should be aware of loud sounds within your environment. Health Hearing has a list of the best apps for determining deciBel levels in your environment. Using these monitors isn't guaranteed, but they are a guide that allows you to have a better sense of the noise around you. The best way to keep your hearing healthy is to visit your hearing health provider for an annual exam. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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