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Do Headphones Cause Hearing Loss? The Science & Stats 2024

Last updated: 9 months ago
7 min read

What does the science say about headphones causing hearing loss? Here’s the latest data.

Learn about:

  • Do headphones cause hearing loss?
  • How common is hearing loss from headphones
  • Types of hearing loss
  • Who suffers from noise-induced hearing loss more

And other interesting statistics about headphones and hearing loss.

Apple AirPods Max transparency mode

Contents:

CONTENTS (click to show more)

    Key Headphones and Hearing Loss Stats

    • 30% of teenagers who listen to headphones at 85-100 dB volume have bad hearing.
    • 17% of US teenagers have noise-induced hearing loss.
    • 50% of young people risk hearing damage, with 1.1 billion of them due to listening to loud music.
    • 20% of teenagers will experience hearing loss due to listening to loud music with headphones.
    • Active noise-cancelling headphones protect hearing because users tend to lower the listening volume thanks to ANC.
    • 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, with 11 million of them considered deaf or seriously hard-hearing.
    • 11% of Americans suffer from tinnitus, while 5.9% complain about hypersensitivity to specific sounds.

    Do Headphones Cause Hearing Loss?

    • Multiple studies have confirmed the link between hearing loss and long-term headphone use.

    And that’s understandable. You know when you’re listening to music, and all of a sudden, your favorite track starts playing? Admit it; you probably increase the volume.

    Short periods of loud music aren’t problematic. However, we tend to forget we raised to volume since our ears quickly adjust to the loudness. And once you increase the volume, it usually stays that way until we stop listening.

    Youngsters who grew up with headphones and portable audio players are at the highest risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

    • A Swedish study showed 30% of teenagers who listened to headphones at 85-100 dB volume had poor hearing.

    Study: Headphone Listening Habits and Hearing Thresholds in Swedish Adolescents

    Other findings of the study:

    • The average starting age when teenagers start listening to headphones is 13 years.
    • The average teenager listens for 2 hours per session, 6.5 days per week.
    • 20% of teenagers listen for over 3 hours per day on average. They were more likely to suffer from tinnitus.
    • On average, boys listen for 2.4h, while girls listen for 1.6 hours per session. Boys also start listening half a year sooner than girls.
    • 36% of girls and 22% of boys report subjective hearing problems. While boys have significantly poorer hearing thresholds than girls. It’s likely hearing problems encourage girls to practice safe listening more than boys.
    • 14% of teenagers reported bad hearing, and 7-8% reported hearing problems like tinnitus and sensitivity.
    • The majority of teenagers listen at 75-100% maximum volume.
    • 10% of teenagers listen at 90-100 dB volume, another 10% at 85-90 dB, and 80% at under 85 dB.
    • From testing the estimated sound levels, the study found teenagers have difficulty estimating the real volume they are listening at.

    Here’s a table explaining the differences in hearing problems occurrence by listening volume:

    Teenagers whoSharePoor hearingTinnitusNoise sensitivity
    Listen under 85 dB80%12%12%12%
    Listen at 85-100 dB20%30%40%40%
    Source: Headphone Listening Habits and Hearing Thresholds in Swedish Adolescents

    Read more on dangers of headphones.

    • 17% of teenagers in the US have noise-induced hearing loss.

    Globally, combined studies in the USA, China, Germany, and Scandinavia concluded around 12-15% of children and young adults suffer from noise-induced hearing loss from listening for entertainment (that includes using headphones and earbuds).

    • According to WHO, around 1.1 billion people 12 to 35 years old might have problems hearing later in life due to listening to loud music over headphones.
    Around 1.1 billion people 12 to 35 years old might have problems with hearing due to listening to loud headphones

    Check the decibel chart here to see how much time and loudness it takes to damage your hearing.

    Humans already live in an unusually loud world (noisy workplace, loud power tools), and with improper headphone use, we’re making it even worse.

    • That is why 50% of young people risk hearing damage due to repeated exposure to loud sounds says WHO.

    Here’s more general data on hearing loss, deafness, and tinnitus.

    The Effect of Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones on Hearing Loss

    • Noise-cancelling headphones protect hearing by lowering ambient noise. Consequently, users tend to lower the listening volume.

    This study compared the preferred volumes in different environments between regular headphones and those with active noise cancellation.

    Almost all users set the preferred volume to a safe level when listening to noise-cancelling in-ear earbuds.

    They tested how many users set the volume level above 75 dBA when listening to pop-rock and classical music in quiet and noisy environments. For the background noise they used a constant 80 dB white noise and a recording of subway noise at rush hour.

    Here’s a table showing the effect of ANC on volume level:

    Type of headphonesPop-rock
    -Quiet
    Pop-rock
    -Noisy
    Classical
    -Quiet
    Classical
    -Noisy
    Earphones (n=23)423223
    Headphones (n=23)423323
    In-ear headphones (n=23)518218
    ANC in-ear headphones (n=10)0201

    As you can see from the data:

    • All users set the preferred volume above the 75 dB limit in noisy environments when listening to earphones and headphones.
    • In-ear headphones are a bit safer due to passive noise isolation. 88% of in-ear headphone users set it above the limit.
    • The volume exceeded the limit in only 3 out of 20 noisy sessions.

    Note: The number of participants was rather low, but you can clearly see the difference.

    Source: Effects of an Active Noise Control Technology Applied to Earphones on Preferred Listening Levels in Noisy Environments

    What’s the conclusion?

    Loud ambient noise masks your music. Consequently, it forces you to crank up the volume.

    Active noise-cancelling (ANC) technology reduces ambient noise, which is why you don’t feel the need to blast your headphones to overpower the background noise.

    ANC protects your hearing in the long term and makes headphones safer to use in a city.

    Related: Are noise cancelling headphones and earbuds safe?

    How Common is Hearing Loss from Headphones?

    • Hearing loss from headphones is most common in the younger demographic under the age of 35.
    Hearing loss from headphones is most common in younger people under the age of 35

    That’s the same demographic that primarily uses portable gadgets and headphones to listen to music (Regain Hearing).

    It’s estimated that 20% of teens will have some form of hearing loss due to listening to loud music. That’s 30% more than 20 years ago (Osteopathic Association).

    More teen data:

    Further research is needed to fully understand how dangerous headphones are to our hearing.

    However, studies so far suggest that people who listen to headphones for more than 3 hours per day report having hearing problems (Source 4).

    How long is it safe to wear headphones?

    Check the headphone volume chart with CDC-recommended exposure in our article about safe headphone volume.

    The Impact of Different Types of Headphones on Hearing

    There is no statistically significant difference between types of headphones on hearing.

    Type of headphonesAverage sound pressure
    (volume)
    Regular earphones (AirPods style)75 dB
    In-ear headphones76.2 dB
    Source: Headphone Listening Habits and Hearing Thresholds in Swedish Adolescents

    in the study, the average listening volume of in-ear headphones was 76.2 dB, while that of regular earphones was 75 dB. that’s a 1.2 dB difference, but…

    The differences between different types of headphones are not statistically significant to conclude one type is better than the other.

    Related: Are Bluetooth headphones safe?

    Can Listening to Loud Music Cause Hearing Loss?

    • Extended exposure to loud noise above 95 dB is the #1 cause of noise-induced hearing loss.

    Aging and excessive noise exposure are the main reasons for hearing loss in American adults.

    Interestingly, the study concludes occupational noise exposure accounts for less than 10% of hearing loss. The majority is the result of noise exposure above 95 dB during leisure time. Loud concerts, traffic, and entertainment, including listening to headphones, are the main sources of exposure.

    The problems become apparent in middle age when the combination of aging and noise-induced hearing loss combined become clinically significant.

    Source: The Burdens of Age-related and Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in the United States

    In the 2017 study, youngsters (17 years old) who listened to headphones daily and at higher volumes reported more listening problems, such as:

    • Poorer hearing
    • Tinnitus
    • Noise sensitivity
    • Noise fatigue
    • Teenagers listening above 85 dB volume listen more frequently in school and while sleeping. They have poorer hearing and more hearing problems.

    Listening more and at an unhealthy volume leads to more hearing problems and, eventually, noise-induced hearing loss.

    • On average, teenagers with reported tinnitus had a 5 dB poorer hearing threshold.

    Tinnitus is often the result of extreme loudness exposure. Teens who abuse their hearing threshold also suffer from poorer hearing. This difference only gets bigger with time.

    Source: Headphone Listening Habits and Hearing Thresholds in Swedish Adolescents

    Usually, people lose hearing gradually with age. However, seeing such results in teenagers shows a link between listening to loud music and hearing loss.

    Young people that often listen to music might have the same difficulties hearing in their mid-40s as their grandparents in their 70s and 80s.

    And that’s primarily due to heavy usage of portable music devices and headphones, as well as attending loud live performances (Healthline).

    Also, 53% of US adults with hearing damage (between ages 20-69) didn’t work in a noisy workplace. Indicating that the excessive noise came from recreational activities, such as:

    • Listening to music
    • Attending events
    • Using loud power tools

    (CDC 2)

    So, can listening to loud music cause hearing loss?

    Listening to loud music and other excessive loudness exposure are the main preventable causes of noise-induced hearing loss.

    Most common causes of hearing loss

    Here are all the things that harm your hearing according to CDC (separated in 3 groups):

    Everyday activities:Events:Tools:
    Listening to loud musicAttending live concertsUsing loud power tools
    Children toysAttending sporting eventsHearing sirens
    Fitness classesAttending motorized eventsUsing firearms
    Working & living in a loud environmentAttending movie theatersThrowing firecrackers

    Check the data on noise pollution.

    How Many Americans are Deaf?

    • Around 11 million US citizens (or 3.6% of the US population) are considered deaf (RIT Libraries).

    Of course, not all people are deaf because of exposure to loud sounds or listening to music. Some are also born deaf or became deaf due to an accident or medical condition.

    How many Americans have hearing loss?

    • Around 48 million Americans suffer from various degrees of hearing loss (HLAA).
    Around 48 million Americans suffer from various degrees of hearing loss

    However, sometimes you don’t even know your hearing is damaged.

    Here’s why.

    Your brain works hard to mask things that would otherwise annoy you, like hearing your blood flow. That’s also why you can focus on someone speaking in a noisy room.

    However, that can be deceiving. 24% of US adults aged 20-69 who claim they hear excellently already suffer from hearing loss (CDC 2).

    We associate hearing loss with the sensation of actually hearing less. However, that’s already its advanced stage. You can recognize hearing loss much earlier by paying attention to early signs.

    Conclusion

    While hearing loss of mostly higher frequencies occurs naturally with age, exposing yourself to very loud noise can further worsen your hearing abilities. Listening to music over headphones included.

    Hopefully, this article gave you some insight into what are the causes of hearing loss, how to identify it, and most importantly, how to prevent it.

    Let us know if we forgot anything in the comments.

    1. Healthline, How Headphones, Earbuds Can Slowly Harm Your Hearing Over Time. Accessed June 29, 2022.
    2. CDC, Public Health and Scientific Information. Accessed June 29, 2022.
    3. CDC 2, Too Loud! For Too Long! Accessed June 29, 2022.
    4. Stephen E. Widén, Sara Båsjö, Claes Möller, and Kim Kähäri, Headphone Listening Habits and Hearing Thresholds in Swedish Adolescents. Accessed January 2, 2023.
    5. NIDCD
    6. WHO
    7. Jamanetwork
    8. Osteopathic Association
    9. Regain Hearing
    10. RIT Libraries
    11. National Academies
    12. Takunari Hoshina, Daiki Fujiyama, Takuji Koike, and Katsuhisa Ikeda, Effects of an Active Noise Control Technology Applied to Earphones on Preferred Listening Levels in Noisy Environments. Accessed January 2, 2023.
    13. Dobie, Robert A., The Burdens of Age-related and Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in the United States. Accessed January 3, 2023.
    2 Comments
    1. Thank you for drawing attention to this rapidly growing risk to our hearing and that of our children.
      I am the Digital Lead for the World Health Organisation (WHO) Make Listening Safe Campaign and our focus is to reduce these risks.
      Since you conducted the research for this article the WHO have issued a new safety standard for headphones (H.870 v2) which puts the headphone user in charge by giving them easy to understand information about their sound exposure levels and enables them to protect their children.
      We have now started lobbying the headphone manufacturers to encourage them to adopt this safety standard and start safeguarding the hearing of their users, anything you can do to help would be very much appreciated.
      Stephen Wheatley | Digital Campaign Lead | Make Listening Safe Campaign

      Reply

      1. Thank you for the update Stephen. It is our hope that people recognize the unhealthy ways of using headphones and practice safe listening. If you have any new data on headphones and hearing loss, we’re all ears.

        Reply

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