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Is my music too loud? Am I damaging my hearing?

I was asked this question on Quora about noise damage to hearing.

Question: What damage have I already done to my ear hair cells by listening to music on max volume, around 6 hours on average daily, with earbuds for the past 3-4 years?

Answer: it used to be that you would listen to loud music in your teens, have a normal hearing test at age 30 and think “I got away with it, no damage to my hearing from all those years of the Walkman/Discman/mp3 player/Spotify (choose your generation!)”.

Now there are studies that have shown us that hearing damage and abnormal test results can come *later*, and the hearing loss that would normally occur will be worse - specifically because of those loud headphones/earbuds in your younger life.

This is not accumulating/worsening hearing loss, but it is accumulated damage potential. This noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is sort of postponed.

So when you are aged 55+ and start to notice hearing issues in background noise, you get a hearing test and are told you have what I would call “wear and tear” hearing loss. It gets categorised as age-related hearing loss and it progresses over time like that kind of loss does. But you might get it at 55 and over time develop a moderate/severe loss, whereas if you had never had the exposure to long levels of intense noise it would’ve been a mild/moderate loss after age 65.

People can and do get NIHL in their 20s and 30s; it (usually) has a signature shape which audiologists recognise. But more and more we are realising that causes of hearing loss and the associated damage timelines are more complicated than we thought.

There are plenty of risk factors for hearing loss. If you have deaf parents or grandparents then you already have the major one. You’re definitely going to get old, so maybe that’s 2 risk factors for you. You may be genetically susceptible to one of the 4000 viruses that cause hearing loss in your lifetime.

Listening to excessive intense noise daily is certainly playing with fire, it is a really well documented risk factor for hearing loss. Noise is the only risk factor you can control, so if you don’t like the idea of wearing hearing aids, turn it down!

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