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      How to protect your hearing when using headphones

      Many people, including young children, listen to music, films or TV using headphones or earphones, often at high sound levels. This can damage their hearing and/or cause tinnitus. Richard Whitaker, an acoustic consultant, tells us how we can listen safely.

      By: Richard Whitaker | 12 February 2019
      We are all using headphones more often than ever. But how many of us realise the potential health implications?

      The use of headphones has become acceptable in nearly all aspects of life. You can almost guarantee that the person sitting next to you on the train will be using them. The ability to stream, listen or watch 24 hours a day is relatively new, but we all take it for granted. But with so much headphone use we could actually be damaging our hearing through over exposure.

      Back in 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that "Noise-induced hearing loss is the major avoidable cause of permanent hearing impairment worldwide". And worryingly, more recently they stated that 1.1 billion people, notably teenagers and young adults, are at risk of hearing loss through unsafe use of headphones (WHO, 2015).

      Sales of mobile phones and tablets are increasing year on year, all of which come with a pair of headphones. Just open your kitchen drawer, and you’ll probably find several pairs. This now affects all age groups, including our children, as we all plug our headphones in whether we’re at the gym, commuting or letting the kids use the iPad. All of which could be actually damaging our hearing through over exposure. Limiting screen time is a popular topic with parents, but how often do they discuss limiting headphone time?

      Over exposure to loud noise can cause noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus, which is ringing, hissing, buzzing and other similar sounds in the ear that are not from an external source.

      So, what can be done to protect our hearing and reduce the risks of getting tinnitus?

      The obvious answer is to turn the volume down. But what we actually mean is limit the exposure. The louder you listen the shorter you should listen. Turn the volume down and listen longer.

      Applying these rules personally is hard so getting children to comply would be even more difficult. After all, we’re all guilty of turning the volume up at times, normally as a direct result of the ambient background noise level of your surroundings.

      Luckily, there are some helpful settings within your devices to get you started and also many apps which can control the volume and exposure for you.

      I’ve previously talked about how to apply a maximum volume limit on iPhones and iPads, which you can read here.

      So, this time, I am going to cover some of the third-party apps available.

      Apps for Android devices

      Firstly, I want to mention HearAngel.

      This takes two main factors into account, time and level. The app takes these two important factors and applies the principles of noise at work health and safety rules and places them within your phone.

      The app addresses the issues of previous apps by actually knowing the level that is produced by the headphones allowing you to know the actual exposure of your listening. The app can then determine how long you can listen for safely. In other words, the louder you listen the shorter you can listen.

      The app will eventually allow you to select your particular headphone (make & model) allowing it to more accurately determine the amount of exposure. Interestingly, this is where most apps and third-party devices are limited, as the actual sound level produced will vary depending on the headphone used, so this is a great step in the right direction.
      HearAngel is currently only available for Android devices as a free BETA version while the app is developed via the Google Play store. Get it while it’s free!

      Next up is Volume Limiter (Limit & Lock), a free app for Android devices.

      This app addresses the lack of ability on Android devices to set a maximum volume limit. This has always been an issue for Android devices, unlike iPhones which allow you to set a maximum level.

      The app provides a quick way of setting a maximum volume limit which can then be locked. The app has many other features such as speaker output levels and will also notify the user if the level is exceeded.

      Another free Android app is Volume Limiter - a simple way to set a volume limit, with a very simple interface and easy to use.

      Apps for iOS Apple devices (iPhones & iPads)

      iPhones & iPads already have the great advantage that they allow you to set the volume limit on the device – you can read about this here.

      HearAngel will hopefully be available on iOS once fully developed, as currently there is no ability on iOS devices to determine the actual exposure from your headphone use.

      Volume.lock lite is a free app for iOS devices. Another simple way of setting a maximum volume on your device, the interface is simple to use and provides some ‘lovely’ background music to determine the final level whilst setting the device. The App has many additional features for those who wish to spend an additional £2.99 for the full version. However, the app is disabled when it is closed.

      Other apps are available!

      There are too many apps available to mention them all, especially for Android devices. However, a word of warning – there are many apps available which are actually designed to increase and override the device maximum level output which is strongly not advised.

      Also, I’ve only mentioned free apps, as some are very expensive and the cost doesn’t necessarily give you more control over a free option.

      Always check the volume level on the headphones to see if it's appropriate – this will vary depending on the type used.

      And remember, just because the volume is set to a safe level, doesn’t mean it’s not loud. You may want to set the level lower, especially for younger children.


      Find out more

      If you have any queries or would like some more information, contact me at richjwhit@gmail.com.

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