Can Headphones Damage Your Hearing

This blog post has been reviewed and approved by a hearing healthcare professional.

Yes, headphones and earbuds can damage your hearing. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 50% of people ages 12 to 35 are at risk of hearing loss due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds through headphones1. This is due to how common it is to listen to music or podcasts through personal audio devices, like smartphones. The extent of the risk of hearing loss depends on the level, duration, and frequency of exposure to loud sounds. Luckily, there are things you can do to reduce the risk.
Use Noise-canceling Headphones
Some people may think they have to turn up the volume on their headphones because of the loud noise around them. To avoid turning up the volume on your headphones to drown out the noise in your environment, use noise-canceling headphones. Passive noise-canceling or noise isolation headphones physically block out ambient noise while active noise-canceling headphones generate a phase-inverted sound that cancels out ambient noise. This helps you keep the volume on your audio at a low level while still being able to hear clearly.
Turn Down the Volume
It can be this simple: just turn down the volume on your audio device. It is recommended to listen to audio at no more than 60% of the maximum volume.2 If you think the volume can’t be set low enough, you can check to make sure your headphones don’t have a separate volume control.
Take Listening Break
You can also take listening breaks to help reduce your risk of getting hearing loss. The longer you listen to loud music, the higher the chance is of damaging your ears. We recommend that you take a 5-minute break for every 30 minutes that you listen through headphones.
Set a Volume Limit

The recommended safe level for leisure noise is below 80 dB for a maximum of 40 hours duration in a week, according to the World Health Organization.3

 

Some devices like televisions or smartphones will allow you to set a volume limit. You can check your device's manual or settings to see if you can set up a volume limit.

 

On an iPhone, you can go to Settings > Sound & Haptics > Headphone Safety. Here you can enable the ‘ReduceLoud Sounds’ feature and set your volume limit to the recommended 80 dB. Your iPhone will analyze headphone audio and reduce sounds that are over the set decibel level.

 

You can also enable ‘Headphone Notifications’ to receive notifications informing you if you’ve been listening to loud headphone audio for long enough to affect your hearing. Your iPhone will measure headphone audio levels and if you exceed the recommended 7-day limit based on the safe listening guidelines set by the World Health Organization, a notification will be sent and the volume is turned down.3

 

It is also possible to set a volume limit on some Android smartphones. Go to Settings > Sounds and vibration > Volume > More options > Media volume limit > Toggle the button to ‘On’ > set the ‘Custom volume limit’ to no more than two thirds of the volume range.


These instructions may not work the same for everyone, depending on what exact phone and version of the operating system they use. If the above instructions do not work for you, you can try searching for your phone model + “set volume limit instructions” in Google.

The best way to protect your hearing when it comes to headphones is to limit how long and how often you listen at a loud level. If you have any concerns about hearing loss, you can contact us to request a hearing test with a hearing healthcare professional near you.

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1 “New WHO-ITU standard aims to prevent hearing loss among 1.1 billion young people.” World Health Organization. February 12, 2019. Accessed June 27, 2022. https://www.who.int/news/item/12-02-2019-new-who-itu-standard-aims-to-prevent-hearing-loss-among-1.1-billion-young-people

2 Ferjan, Matija. “What is a safe volume for headphones?” Headphones Addict. November 9, 2020, Accessed June 27, 2022. https://headphonesaddict.com/safe-headphone-volume/

3 “Make Listening Safe.” World Health Organization. Accessed June 27, 2022.  https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/documents/health-topics/deafness-and-hearing-loss/mls-brochure-english-2021.pdf?sfvrsn=bf19b448_5