In fact the answer is sure, headphones could be very harmful for your ears.
A team from the University of Leicester recently proved that noises louder than a hundred and ten intensity cause harm to a special sort nerve cell outside layer, which in return may cause tinnitus (essentially a buzzing or droning in the ears – and here’s me thinking that it just made everything sound ‘a bit tinny’) and even provisional deafness in a number of instances.
According to medical medical news today.com, that reported for the University’s findings, the myelin sheath may be a form of coating that covers the nerve cells that connect the ears the brain. Any noise over 100 decibels begins to deteriorate away this coating, meaning that the signals will eventually stop getting to the brain. Given time, the myelin sheath will usually (but not at all times) heal itself and reform, resulting in the damage only being provisional. Still, it is a thing to think about.
As for more lasting damage, well, the particulars are instead startling. Depending on TIME magazine’s Laura Blue,
“Hearing loss is more common than ever before. About 16% of American adults have an impaired ability to hear speech, and more than 30% of Americans over age 20 — an estimated 55 million people — have lost some high-frequency hearing”.
These shocking figures were put forward in the ‘Archives of Internal Medicine’ journal and initially published in ’08. Following this publication, Blue interviewed Brian Fligor, who was, at the time, the director of diagnostic audiology at Children’s Hospital Boston. In the interview, Fligor stated,
“If you’re using the earbuds that come with an iPod and you turn the volume up to about 90% of maximum and you listen a total of two hours a day, five days a week, our best estimates are that the people who have more sensitive ears will develop a rather significant degree of hearing loss — on the order of 40 decibels (dB). That means the quietest sounds audible are 40 dB loud. Now, this is high-pitched hearing loss, so a person can still hear sounds and understand most speech. The impact is going to be most clearly noted when the background-noise level goes up, when you have to focus on what someone is saying. Then it can really start to impair your ability to communicate”.
Thus, the query now becomes, what can you do to lower the danger?
Sam Costello of About.com suggests turning down the volume, which is reasonably clear, really. Though, (s)he also suggests accessing the ‘volume control’ on your iPod or device and reducing the maximum volume setting (synch it to the computer for further like options), as well as listening for shorter durations of time and switching from earbuds to ‘above the ear’ headset. Earbuds are the most dangerous headphone sort, apparently.
Just for the record, the typical Us iPod can generate about a hundred and fifteen decibels, which is reminiscent of attending a fairly loud rock concert (although not only a Motorhead gig clearly – now that is a band which almost ensures absolute deafness for at least a few days afterwards, trust me).
However, the good news is that if you’re in the EU, your iPod is restricted to 100db highest output by law. Even though you’re still at risk if you turn the volume all the way up and hear all of it day long, that hazard is significantly less on our side of the pond.