Health Maintenance > Headphones


Q:  Are there any concerns about young children listening to music with headphones frequently? Is there any chance of hearing damage?

A:  Absolutely.  Headphones pose a risk of hearing damage for children; this is an important issue.  Several recent news reports have spotlighted cases of permanent hearing damage in older adults due to their listening habits in childhood.

Noise induced hearing damage is caused by a combination of loudness and prolonged listening times; giving the ears a “break” of a quiet period after listening for a while may offer some protection.  Most people use open-air "over-the-ear" headphones, or the ear bud "in-the-ear" style.  In noisy areas, users may crank up the volume in an attempt to drown out ambient noise.  Unfortunately, this puts the hearing at risk.  Noise-blocking or noise-canceling headphones may be less dangerous.

Some experts fear that aerobic exercise may increase the danger of noise-induced hearing loss, because blood is diverted from the organs of hearing (not to mention the risk of injury due to distraction from the music).

Permanent damage may occur before any symptoms (such as ringing in the ears or difficulty understanding speech) are apparent, so prevention of hearing loss by moderation of listening habits is crucial.

     --  David Epstein MD