UC Health audiologists recommend taking several steps when using earbuds and phone headsets to make sure they aren't too loud.
Audiologist Stephanie Lockhart advises using the "1/2 volume rule" for personal listening devices: Keep the volume set to no higher than half the available level.
She also recommends short breaks from the devices to give your ears a rest. Speech shouldn't sound muffled or dull after you remove your headphones.
Unless your headphones are "noise-canceling," you should be able to hear someone three feet away-and they shouldn't be able to hear the music being pumped into your ears.
Lockhart also recommends being a hearing-conscious consumer: Look for hairdryers and power tools with lower noise ratings and be careful when buying toys for children.
"Some toys with sirens, etc. can emit up to 90-decibel sounds," she says. "Listen to them before you buy them and look for toys with volume controls."
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association offers a breakdown of decibel levels: While a normal conversation is about 60 decibels, 90 decibels is equal to the sound produced by a subway or passing motorcycle.
Though technology has provided many ways to enhance hearing once it's lost, your natural hearing capacity is a limited resource, cautions Lockhart. If you damage the hearing cells enough, they won't heal back to their original state.
"Exposure to noise damages the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Damage can be the result of short, intense noise, but it can also accumulate after regular exposure to loud sounds over time. And once the damage has occurred, it is permanent."
When to See an Audiologist:
If your ears hurt after being in a loud place, or if you experience ringing or buzzing for more than a day or two after being exposed to loud noise.
Your hearing suddenly becomes sensitive or changes.
If you work around loud noise or participate in noisy activities, Lockhart recommends an annual hearing test to monitor your hearing.
You're interested in custom ear plugs–your audiologist can help you decide on the appropriate style and can take the impressions and order the ear plugs for you.
Source: University of Cincinnati