Is it dangerous to sleep with headphones?

An expert explains
When are headphones harmful to hearing?

On the way we listen to music and in the home office we talk on the phone with the headphones. Certain things need to be taken into account so that the hearing is not damaged by the constant exposure.

Working from home with meetings via video call has become part of everyday life for many in recent months. Often included: the button in the ear. We also listen to music, follow podcasts and make phone calls on the go.

That can be harmful in the long run. Because if you use the sound for too long and too loudly, you risk damaging your hearing. And the assumption is that the constant wearing of headphones is the cause. Headphones conduct sound directly and without detours into the ear.

How does hearing damage occur?

In order to understand how hearing damage occurs, one must first understand hearing itself: When sound hits the ears, it is bundled and directed into the ear canal. There it sets the eardrum vibrating. This movement is amplified in the middle ear and then converted by tiny hair cells in the inner ear into bioelectrical impulses that reach the brain. So you can hear.

Hearing damage occurs when the fine hair cells are damaged or die off by excessive vibration. This can happen through a sudden, very loud noise (pop trauma) or through constant exposure to heavy loads. Neither surgery nor medication can revive the hair cells. Acoustics expert Bruno Buchmann adds: “The ear does not distinguish whether music is playing, whether you are having a conversation or a circular saw is running. With regard to possible damage, only the energy that hits the inner ear counts. "

To person

Bruno Buchmann

As an acoustician and safety engineer at Suva, Bruno Buchmann controls noise pollution in companies and advises on how to avoid hearing damage in the workplace.

When is it too much?

But when are conversations, music and ambient noises too much of a good thing? The expert calls the limit of 85 decibels. On average, this value should not be exceeded on a working day of eight hours. For comparison: in an office 50-60 decibels are common, road traffic is between 70-80 decibels and in a club values ​​of up to 100 decibels are possible.

However, since there is seldom a volume measurement device available at home, tools help. On Lärmorama, for example, users can find out whether they are at risk: a table shows how long the headphones are worn and how loud they are. The program then determines noise points and uses a color scale to indicate how endangered a user is. The limit to the risk begins after wearing headphones for 10 hours per week. But only for those who have set their headphones too loud: 90 decibels. This happens less often than you might think: According to a study by Suva, young people, for example, listen to around 100 minutes of music a day. The majority with a reasonable volume of 80 decibels.

And what about headphones in the home office?

The expert also gives the all-clear for the home office and for conferences with headphones: “You should expect your ears to be up to 85 decibels per day on average. Video conferences are usually much quieter. Therefore there is no increased risk of hearing damage. " Not even if it takes longer, because the dose makes the poison: the louder the sound, the shorter you should expose yourself to it. If the headphones are set to low, even a meeting marathon will not cause any damage.

According to the expert, it does not matter whether you use the loudspeaker on your laptop during conferences or whether you wear on-ear, in-ear or over-ear headphones. Headphones even have a big advantage: The listener has the volume in their own hands. Many devices have an integrated “noise scale” that protects them: “The scale can look a little different for each device, but as long as you stay within the green area, there is no special risk. Also because almost all devices that you can buy in Switzerland and France have been tested and the volume has to be limited, ”explains the acoustician.

Constantly wearing headphones, whether in the home office or on the go, does not cause any damage if the volume is right. You should still listen to your body: "A hissing noise or whistling in the ear is always an alarm signal," warns Buchmann. If you notice a ringing or beeping, you need to be quiet. According to the expert, preferably 12 to 24 hours.