We get a lot of questions about headphones and hearing loss.

Usually, it’s from parents or grandparents concerned about the younger people in their house listening to music on a computer or digital music player.  Often, they’ll say, “My kid listens to music on their headphones and turns it up so high that I can hear it. Isn’t that bad?”

The short answer to that is yes!  Headphones and earbuds have been linked to hearing loss by many scientific studies, and many news sources have reported that young people have hearing loss directly linked to listening to music at dangerous volumes using headphones.  NBC even compiled a report on the phenomena.  They titled it “Generation Deaf”.

As a medical professional, I have a lot to say on this topic – but a limited amount of space.  So I’ll keep it brief.  First, headphones and earbuds are OK as long as the audio isn’t above 85 decibels.  That’s the “danger zone” for hearing loss, and while some sources say you can be exposed to sounds between 85 decibels and 95 decibels for up to two hours without permanent damage, I have to recommend you play it conservative and always keep the volume below 85 decibels.  

Second, money spent on good headphones can pay off.  We’re big fans of the Puro headphones, which warn you when the noise is at 85 decibels with a yellow light, and again with a red light when it hits damaging levels. Puro headphones are manufactured to deliver great sound quality, meaning you won’t be tempted to turn up the dial.

Finally, if you have regular headphones, pay attention to the red flags of dangerous noise levels.  If your ears are ringing after listening, you have the music up too loud.  If you have turned it up enough to drown out the TV or the subway, or other background noise, it’s too loud.  And if others can clearly hear what you’re listening to, it’s way too loud.  

Safe listening!


Dr. Sheryl Figliano