Disclaimer: As you read this, be sure that the above named author is a partner in crime and is liable, just as much as you are, to use his own advice.
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When people talk of the year 1910, they don’t talk about much. Rather, it is easier to lump its historical value into the class of all the other years that came after it. Yet, when speaking of defining moments for the telecommunications industry, this is one thing that will likely feature: it was in that era that Nathaniel Baldwin, a 32-year-old Mormon, invented a set of proper headphones on his kitchen table. Before then, what existed in the late nineteenth century was a subscription-based system which the British used to connect people to live concerts from their homes — speak of an audio YouTube with a middleman thrown in along the way.
From here on, little else, other than their wide application in defence sectors, happened in the space of headphone development. However, as the century went on, innovations like the SP/3 stereophone by John Koss gradually took over as the new order. Thus began the journey of Walkmans, iPods, Beats by Dres and just about any brand name that you can recall in the music tech industry.
While the average person can easily outline a hundred and twenty reasons why he should use a headphone, there is a strong doubt on his awareness of its side effects. And the cause is not hard to see: when something enhances the quality of life of a person, looking out for hidden consequences will not always sit as a top priority. In that regard, this article engages you on your bad listening habits, with a view to not only examine but create awareness of some of the health implications.
Wanted, Not Wanted
A mishmash of different definitions explains noise as unwanted sound, which is unpleasant and disrupts hearing. These adjectives are terms which do not apply in this context, as very often, when we listen to music, we do not do so because it is unpleasant or we do not want it. But a different way to look at these definitions would be to connote them as meaning more than what we want, in the context of our desire, and what the body is most welcome to receiving. In other words, we think of ‘pleasant’ and ‘wanted’ in terms of the long-term impacts on overall health. Thus, while listening to music at high volumes is a pleasure you very much like to enjoy, it is not desirable for your personal wellbeing.
But we must establish something. This article does not oppose listening to music or anything of that nature; what we contend with is, once again, the unhealthy dimensions of the act.
Dear Buddy, Earbuds
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Earbuds — the thin strip of wire that sneaks into your ears in a Y shape — came as the revolutionary substitute for headphones. With their size, one gets a lighter musical burden to transit with. However, they are also some of the most alluring habitats for bacteria. Because buds fall into the category of devices which are worn inside the ear, they pose a greater threat in the area of transmission. You are even more exposed to the risk of ear infections when you share your earphones with others and immediately use without cleaning.
The effects may not be immediately obvious, but as with many threats inherent in unhealthy listening habits, they show up at a later stage.
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Effects? Here, Here…
Among the most crippling effects of improper use of earphones is the accumulation of ear wax. Habitual use of your device increases your exposure and keeps your canals loaded with an unfriendly amount of goo. Equally, there is the risk of tinnitus, which is a ringing noise caused by damage to the ear cells in your cochlea. Others are noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), dizziness and hyperacusis (unusual sensitivity to sounds).
How High Can You Turn It?
Decibel is the unit used for measuring sound. Ideally, listening to sounds above 85 decibels for a long stretch of time is dangerous to ear health. A pair of Apple Airpods can go as high 102 decibels, while the run-of-the-mill headphones or earbuds can turn it up to 110, depending on what you use. According to a study by the World Health Organisation, more than a billion young people are at risk of hearing loss. This is especially due to personal listening habits which they observe. Besides the musical aesthetics which earphones can bring, they are also the go-to equipment for silencing a big-mouthed partner or a pair of kids who can’t seem to stop crying. Yet, it is not every time we make this response that the earphones are adequate. According to data, instinct tells us to turn the volume up by extra 13 decibels to block out sound effectively — unwittingly substituting external noise with a harmful one of our own.
Okay, What Do I Do?
For you to maintain the integrity of your ears, it is important to stay within the safe decibel zone that your ears can endure. A practical way to do this is to apply the much-touted solution offered by experts: the 60/60 rule.
This simply states that you should listen to your device at 60 percent volume capability for 60 minutes a day. This keeps you within a healthy hearing range and protects your health. Also, to determine how high your noise levels are, using a software application can be of help. It measures the decibels and indicates when you exceed the range for your ears.
Similarly, paying attention to the features of earphones can help. Noise-cancellation earphones are ideal for shutting out the surrounding noise that you tried to escape in the first place. With these, you can keep the sound at a safe volume while ignoring all the other things that need to be ignored.
Lastly, gauging the reaction of people to your private music can help. When your device spits so much sound that others can hear it, then you know it is loud. When you are also unable to hear conversation from a few feet away, again, your earphones are too loud.
Now… Ding! !
Did you hear that?