Headphones: are they harmful?

May 26, 2017










Headphones let you listen to music when you’re at work, at the gym, on the go, or enjoying your free time. But how do our ears feel about so much music?

Using headphones occasionally at a reasonable volume isn’t likely to damage your hearing. However, overuse can cause problems. Studies that analyzed the hearing of young adults found that listening to music with headphones for several hours a day can be associated with hearing loss1.

Noise levels

The risk of permanent hearing damage, and eventually deafness, depends on the dose of noise. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 75 dB (decibels) can cause damage after 8 hours of exposure. Below that threshold, there is no risk of deafness. However, volumes above that level are likely to damage hearing even faster. The top volume on music players often exceeds 110 dB: the same volume as a rock concert. At that level, just a few seconds of exposure per day can lead to eventual deafness. Reducing the volume and duration of your listening sessions reduces your noise exposure2.

Noisy environments

Listening to music in a noisy environment is the habit that concerns professionals the most. You may have noticed that if you listen to music while jogging, you tend to turn the volume up to mask the noise of traffic or your breathing. Most people listen to music at safe volumes when they’re in quiet areas, but sound levels can quickly become harmful for the average user when they’re in a noisy environment3. Gyms, public transportation, planes and even some workplaces are all noisy environments where people often listen to music with headphones.

Noise exposure in recreational activities can be damaging. Using headphones reasonably and wearing hearing protection during concerts are two ways you can protect your hearing in the long term.

Tips and tricks

  • Reduce your listening time, especially in noisy areas.
  • Adjust the volume so that you can hear the world around you. This will keep you safe and let you have conversations.
  • Start with the volume on the lowest setting, then turn it up slowly until it’s at a comfortable volume.
  • Teenagers tend to listen to music at a higher volume. Check whether you can set a maximum volume on their music player.
  • Choose headphones or earbuds with custom earmolds, because you can lower the volume more.

If you think that you have hearing loss or even if you’re just looking for advice, talk to an audiologist!


  1. Naik, K. and Pai S. ‘‘High frequency hearing loss in students used to ear phone music: A randomized trial of 1,000 students’’. Indian Journal of Otology. 2014. Vol. 20, no 1, 29-32.
  2. Wold Health Organization. ‘‘Critères d’hygiènes de l’environnement 12 – Le bruit.’’ 1980.
  3. Marron, K. H., Sproat, B., Ross, D., Wagner, S. and Alessio, H. ‘‘Music Listening Behavior, Health, Hearing and Otoacoustic Emission Levels’’. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2014. Vol. 11, no 8, 7592-7607.