The Truth About Headphones

Consumers are always looking for the latest technology even when it comes to the latest audio equipment. As of late, there has been a lot of debate about the safety of headphones and earphones, and how they affect our hearing ability. A recent New York Times article discusses what this means for children’s headphones and music listening today.


According to a 2015 report, half of 8- to 12-year-olds in the U.S.listen to music daily, as do nearly two-thirds of teenagers. Unfortunately for them, Dr. Papsin, the otolaryngologist interviewed in the article, said “Headphone manufacturers aren’t interested in the health of your child’s ears.” Products are advertised to be noise-cancelling, “safe for young ears,” or provide “100 percent safe listening.” However, recent studies of the kinds of earphones on the market found that some of them were so unsafe that they damaged ears within minutes of producing loud music.


In a study to determine the relative rankings of the many kinds of earphones and earbuds available to children, researchers used two types of sounds. They used a recently released pop song and compared it to “pink noise” (usually used to test the output levels of equipment, according to the article), and found that playing the chosen pop song at maximum volume made it more likely for headphones to exceed healthy decibel levels than they did playing pink noise.


This means that music that adolescents prefer to play generally produce loud sound at high volume, and is impacting boys and girls alike. The gap in hearing loss rates between boys and girls is decreasing, with the rate of girls’ hearing damage catching up to that of boys. Experts agree that no headphone can replace the most effective means of controlling damage, which is adult supervision. Some practical advice from pediatricians include: “If a parent is an arm’s length away, a child wearing headphones should still be able to hear when asked a question.” In other words, according to Dr. Jim Battey, the director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “if they can’t hear you, ‘that level of noise is unsafe and potentially damaging.’”