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AirPods: The Cause of—and Solution to—Many New Generational Hearing Problems

Everyday life is a challenge in general with hearing loss. Navigating through a global pandemic is even tougher. Experts point to earbuds such as Apple’s popular AirPods as a key contributor to the problem.

AirPods have limitations despite their popularity. In listening environments with background noise, their design allows ambient sounds to seep in. The user’s natural reaction is to turn up the volume in order to drown out the noise, but doing so can be hazardous to your hearing. Recent studies show that earbuds increase the risk of music-induced hearing loss because users listen to music that averages 13 dB louder than background noise.

Listening to music for extended periods can lead to irreversible hearing loss regardless of age. Consider this: the noise in an urban subway car averages 94 dB—already above the “safe” threshold of 85 dB. Riders with earbuds crank their music to around 107 dB, which is loud enough to cause permanent damage in as little as 15 minutes. Noise exposure can also lead to tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to certain frequencies and volumes).

Apple is aware of the problem and is attempting to offer solutions such as ANC, an active noise cancellation feature that uses small microphones along the ear cup to detect low-frequency external sounds to generate a “fingerprint” of the sound wave and create an inverted “anti”-sound wave of the same frequency and amplitude, effectively canceling out the ambient sound. This allows users to enjoy music at lower volumes.

However, ANC is less effective at reducing high-frequency sounds. Remember that it’s best to keep the volume low and take frequent breaks when listening to music through AirPods and other earbuds.

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S.E. Wisconsin Hearing Center Inc.