Risky Silence: The Hidden Hazards of Noise-Canceling Earbuds

Risky Silence: The Hidden Hazards of Noise-Canceling Earbuds

Now hear this. Audiology experts are sounding the alarm about noise-canceling earbuds and headphones, warning users that blocking out background noise can affect how your brain processes sound and reduce your awareness of your surroundings.

Noise-canceling earbuds may bring welcome silence, but they might also mask vital sounds that could save your life, according to Josh Gordon, head of innovation at the Singapore technology company Geonode.

Exposure to loud noise can lead to hearing loss as it can damage the cells and membranes in the inner ear. This damage can not only impair hearing but also lead to increased stress, high blood pressure, disrupted sleep, and diminished productivity.

According to the World Health Organization, adults can safely listen to 80 decibels of noise for up to 40 hours a week. However, a running motorcycle engine is about 95 decibels, while a horn signaling an approaching subway train and sporting events are about 100 decibels, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Noise-canceling headphones can cut noise by 20 to 40 decibels, but the technology is not without risks. Intense sound can damage hearing, so there are situations where noise-canceling headphones benefit you, said David McAlpine, the academic director of Macquarie University Hearing in Australia.

The noise-canceling headphones market is expected to grow to $45.4 billion by 2031, according to Allied Market Research. However, some experts caution that while noise-canceling headphones solve a hearing problem, they may create a listening problem.

One study found that wearing earplugs led to 11 out of 17 participants developing tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. This condition disappeared when the earplugs were removed.

Dr. Ruth Reisman, a clinical audiologist, mentioned that noise-canceling headphones may benefit individuals with hyperacusis or autism, but she advises limiting usage to two to three hours a day to prevent potential issues.

Joel Smith, an audio expert, warned that earbuds can trap sweat and moisture, leading to ear infections. Regular cleaning of earbuds with a soft-bristled brush and alcohol wipes is recommended to maintain ear health.

In conclusion, while noise-canceling technology can provide benefits, it is essential to use it responsibly and be aware of the potential risks associated with prolonged usage. Taking precautions such as limiting daily usage and maintaining good ear hygiene can help mitigate any adverse effects of noise-canceling earbuds and headphones.


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