Quick Study: Turning Up the Volume on Headphones Could Cause Temporary Hearing Damage

Listening to loud music through earphones may reach noise levels akin to jet engines, a study finds.

A study looking at the effects of loud noises on hearing discovered damage to nerve cells, but it seemed to be temporary. (Photo: Shuji Kobayashi/Getty Images)

Aug 29, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

The study: New research suggests that listening to loud music on headphones could possibly harm nerve cells as much as jet engine noises do, causing temporary hearing damage. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by researchers at the University of Leicester in the U.K., discovered that damage occurring at the cellular level could be to blame.

The injury seems to be happening to the myelin sheath, a coating found on nerve cells that transport electrical signals from the ears to the brain. The sheath helps those signals move along the cell. However, when the cells are exposed to loud noises over 110 decibels, they can lose that coating, which in turn upsets the signals, and sounds may not be transmitted as well. The good news: Scientists found that the coating eventually returned, meaning the hearing loss could be temporary.

MORE: My Story: Hearing Music for the First Time, He's Blown Away by the Beauty

What we already know: Previous studies on the link between earphone wearing and hearing show conflicting findings. One 2010 study suggests that almost one in five teens nationwide have experienced some hearing loss. But another 2010 study found that although headphone exposure has increased in about the past two decades among teens, hearing loss did not.

What it means for you: Although the results of this most recent study showed that cell damage may be temporary, this shouldn’t be a license to wear headphones for hours on end and crank up the volume. The team that wrote this study has also done research showing that damage to certain brain cells due to loud noises can cause tinnitus, a condition marked by hearing ringing or other sounds in the ear.

How many hours a day do you listen to music via earphones or headphones? Let us know in the comments.

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