WAMU 88.5 : The Kojo Nnamdi Show

Headphones, Technology And Culture

For many Americans, music and podcasts serve as a constant soundtrack to their daily routines. In offices with open floor plans, workers don headphones to block out noise. Others couldn't get through a workout or their daily commute without music pumping through earbuds. Studies have come to differing conclusions about whether listening to music helps or hinders productivity. More troubling is the increase in permanent hearing loss associated with headphone use. We consider the technology, culture and safe use of this ubiquitous accessory.

How Loud Is That Sound?

Loudness is measured in decibles. Hearing loss can occur when you have prolonged exposure to a noise source over 90 dB. Sound on most MP3 players reaches up to 110 dB -- that's 25 dB higher than the recommended maximum listening volume. For comparison, this is how loud some common environmental sounds are:

Sources: American Tinnitus Association and the National Hearing Conservation Association.

Video: How The Ear Works

Follow the path that sound takes through the ear, and learn how excessive loudness can damage hearing.

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