Here’s What Working Out With Earphones Really Does To Your Ears

What pumping up the volume can do...


Ondela Mlandu |

We all love a great workout playlist, at the gym or when we’re out for a run, but have you ever thought of what happens when you work out with your earphones? Could listening to loud music put you at risk for music-induced hearing loss?

The 3rd of March has been declared World Hearing Day by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This day aims to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness and hearing loss and promote ear and hearing care across the world. In 2015, the World Health Organisation estimated that over a billion young people are at risk of developing hearing loss due to their habit of listening to music at loud levels and for prolonged periods of time.

WH chats to audiologist, PhD candidate and lecturer at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Vera-Genevey Hlayisi about what really happens when the music is pumping in our ears.

Hearing loss explained…

“Hearing loss is a reduction in the ability to hear sounds. It can range in severity from mild to profound and may be temporary or permanent,” says Hlayisi. Hearing loss impacts communication abilities and overall quality of life. Overexposure to loud sounds can cause both temporary and permanent hearing loss by damaging structures within the cochlea, including outer hair cells, the stria vascularis and the supporting cellular structures.

She says, “The risk factors for hearing loss include age-related deterioration, disease related (HIV, diabetes, TB, cancer, meningitis, etc), as well as loud noise exposure. Noise exposure, such as  loud music, can increase your risk to music-induced hearing loss.”

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What is music-induced hearing loss (MIHL)?

MIHL is a decrease in hearing ability as a result of listening to music that exceeds 85 decibels for prolonged periods of time. “A decibel, or dB, is a unit to measure sound intensity, and 85 dB is roughly equivalent to the sound of heavy city traffic,” says Hlayisi.

Portable listening devices like earphones and headphones at 100% volume, when working, exercising, watching series, can increase the risk of MIHL.

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Minimise the risks…

Did you know that the music you’re listening to on your headphones while working out can be louder than music from a rock concert? The average rock concert can easily reach 110 decibels or higher, which is 16 times louder than 70 decibels (the noise of an average vacuum cleaner). The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks says that 5-10% of listeners are likely to develop MIHL.

Hlayisi warns on the risks of MIHL and encourage the following:

1/ Be a safe listener

Use your portable listening devices (earphones, buds or headphones) for less than four hours per day at 70% volume, or 90 minutes per day at 80% volume. “G​et good quality noise cancelling listening devices. The most common reason to use portable listening devices at 100% volume isn’t advised,” says Hlayisi.

2/ Prevention is better than cure

Use noise protection. Noise exposure is a wide problem in public areas like gyms, sports events, music festivals, etc. You can buy a cheap set of discreet ear plugs at a local pharmacy to lower the overall noise levels, but still maintain good access to overall sound. Noise protection often contains filters that allow sounds while not blocking some of the harmful levels.

3/ Get your hearing tested

Annual hearing health check-ups are essential for early prevention. Look up your closest audiologist and get your hearing screened.

There are many free hearing screening services being offered across the country. Also check out the World Health Organisation’s website for their newly launched Smartphone App, hearWHO to screen your hearing.

Check these out…

1/ See the South African Association of Audiologists website and use the ‘Find an Audiologist’ search tool to find an Audiologist  in your area or connect to the Facebook page here 
2/  Most public secondary and tertiary level hospitals have Audiologists where you can book yourself in
Gauteng: Johannesburg General Hospital or Steve Biko Academic
Western Cape: Groote Schuur Hospital or Tygerberg Hospital
KZN: Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital

READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice