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Alert! High volume through earphones can harm your mental health

Alert! High volume through earphones can harm your mental health

Blasting your earphones can not only harm hearing health but also mental and neuron health.
Earphone and mental health
Representational image | Shutterstock

Whether you enjoy listening to Mozart’s Lacrimosa or Taylor Swift’s Fearless, music has worked to make us feel good. And while it’s been proven to elevate our mood, reduce stress, manage pain, improve memory, and boost our workouts, there is a dark side to listening to music in the modern era.   

Punchy bass and soothing treble, the modern music listening experience is being driven by improving noise quality and ever-shrinking tools for listening. Some pea-sized devices that fit in your ear can make you feel like you are at a concert, and here’s where the issue lies.   

Listening to music at high volumes is now being linked with hearing damage. Moreover, research is being conducted to look at its negative effects on mental health and neurons. Doctors and scientists say it is high time to be alert to this invisible threat to your overall wellness.   

Bass-mind connection 

Studies indicate that this low- pitch sound (bass) gives a strong sense of self to the listener as it increases dopamine levels activating the brain’s reward system.   

A 2014 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, conducted by Dennis Y Hsu, Northwestern University, found that music with more bass evokes a sense of power, as compared to that with less bass.  

The authors concluded that music influences behaviour and cognition and is a “novel antecedent of the sense of power”. 

Another study shows that exposure to sound increases dopamine production. The more the individuals relate to the music, the happier they get. 

Bass in higher frequencies can be addictive, confesses Arjun Nair, a sound engineer from Kerala. “Bass induces a sense of high and leaves you wanting for more. Nair who has been experimenting with different frequencies for a while now adds, “We use attenuators in the studios that limit the headphone from delivering an amplitude  higher than 90 or 100 dB (decibels). For normal usage, I recommend keeping the upper limit at 85 dB that too not for long durations.”   

Earphones, high volumes and depression link  

A study published in the journal, Noise and Health in 2021, led by author Jay Hyug Choi from the department of otorhinolaryngology, CHA University of College and Medicine in Korea, reveals that participants who used earphones for more than an hour a day had 1.32 times higher chances of anxiety and depression and 1.27 times higher chances of acquiring tinnitus.  

“As to ensure safe listening levels, not only the intensity of sound but the duration and consistency of noise exposure matters and thus collaboratively contributes to the damaging play,” says Dr Jitendra Mohan Hans, otolaryngologist, Dr Hans Center for Hearing and Vertigo, Delhi.   

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, for every 3dB increase in sound levels, the amount of time you can be exposed to gets halved.  

Another study published in PLOS ONE in 2014, led by researchers Ineke Vogel, Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC University Medical Centre, Netherlands, studied the effect of risky music- listening in 1,000 students under 25 years of age.  

The study reveals that students who exceeded 60 per cent of the volume in their MP3 players have two times higher symptoms of depression and have adverse self-assessed general and mental health.  

Dr. Hans suggests investing in good-quality earphones with properly calibrated bass and other musical notes. Using cheap earphones is the major concern of deteriorating hearing and mental health.   

The Australian Health Agency also recommends the 60-60 rule for earphone users, wherein one should turn up the volume to 60 dB and listen for not more than 60 minutes per day. The agency also suggests using earphones that work well and come with a good fit. 

High volume and neuronal death 

Listening to high volumes may damage the nerves associated with ear and brain communication. A 2012 study, Mechanisms contributing to central excitability changes during hearing loss, reveals that noise above 100 dB damages the myelin sheath (the protective covering of the neurons).  

Dr Hans says that noise constricts the blood vessels in the ear followed by those in the brain [as they are closely connected] depriving them of oxygen leading to damage.  

However, according to the study, myelin loss caused by noise pollution is reversible and myelin sheath can re-grow slowly — but only if the earphones are used wisely.   

Tips for using earphones 

  1. Keeping the maximum volume at 60 per cent 
  2. Not using the earphones for more than an hour 
  3. Using over-the-ear earphones to prevent direct sound vibrations to eardrum and contact with the ear canal 
  4. Sanitising the earbuds regularly to keep the bacteria, ear wax, and shed skin at bay 
  5. Avoiding  earphones while travelling as the external  sound adds to the decibels 
  6. Invest in noise-canceling earphones 
  7. Don’t look for only good bass but a properly calibrated bass and treble while buying earphones 


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