When asked about the leading causes of hearing loss or deafness, gaming wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind. But if you’re one of the millions of gamers who want the best and most immersive gaming experience, chances are you’re frequently using a headset or earbuds.
If this is the case, you could be putting yourself at risk of damaging your hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss caused by repeated exposure to loud noises is prevalent in certain professions. Still, public health officials are now concerned about one other culprit: headsets.
A gaming headset may serve as the ultimate device for a simple pleasure, but it can be the very thing that could prevent you from hearing in the future. So, what precautions should you take to protect your ears from permanent damage?
Table of Contents
- Do Gaming Headsets Damage Hearing?
- Can Gamers Go Deaf?
- Gaming Headsets and Hearing Loss
- Are Gaming Headsets Better Than Earbuds For Hearing Loss?
- How To Protect Your Ears From Hearing Loss When Wearing A Gaming Headset?
Do Gaming Headsets Damage Hearing?
Gaming headsets are considered a personal listening device (PLD), and according to an Australian study conducted in 2017, PLDs are linked with increased noise-induced hearing loss for users.
Of the 4,185 survey respondents, 41% reported having felt they have hearing loss, most of whom are aged between 18 and 35 years old.
This is a huge percentage, and it’s a risk that’s largely ignored by many of us worldwide.
Gaming or even listening to music for as short as 30 minutes with a volume above 85 decibels (dB) can cause progressive scar tissue development in your ear canals. For most headsets, this is merely 80% of the volume.
So while you can hear even the most subtle in-game audio cues for a few seconds, you’re doing more harm than good to your ears. A gaming headset can only go so loud before you struggle to hear or, worse, start losing your hearing.
To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted gamers to spend more time playing at home. According to a Q2 2020 GameTrack survey, gaming engagement was up, increasing on average 1.5 hours of gaming per week. Gamers reported an average of 10.2 hours of gaming per week—up from 8.7 hours compared to Q2 2019.
Among the survey participants, the largest group comprises male gamers ages 15 to 24 years old, the most at risk of permanent hearing damage. This particular cluster spends the most time gaming and is also inclined to play “loud” games.
Most of these respondents are also reported to live in a shared space and use gaming headsets to avoid disturbing others. Hence, the most likely to participate in activities that can harm one’s hearing.
Can Gamers Go Deaf?
Whether or not you’re a gamer, using a listening device like a headset can potentially cause hearing loss or deafness, especially if you use it for a prolonged period and the volume is anything at or above 85 dB.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, using headphones and earbuds has led to a significant rise in the prevalence of hearing loss in adolescents and young adults. It’s safe to assume the same is valid for adults using the same listening devices.
Loud Noise Damages Hearing
The critical danger of a gaming headset is the volume; it can produce sound at deafening levels close to your ears. When soundwaves reach your ears, the eardrums vibrate. This is transmitted to the inner ear canal through several small bones before reaching the cochlea.
This fluid-filled chamber contains thousands of small “hairs.” So, when the vibrations get to this chamber, the fluid inside it vibrates, causing these hairs to move. The louder the sound, the stronger the vibrations, which in turn cause the hairs to move more.
When listening to loud sounds through your gaming headset for an extended period, these hair cells will eventually bend over and lose their sensitivity to vibrations.
When this happens, it causes the feeling of temporary deafness, especially when you’re constantly exposed to loud noises.
These hair cells take time to recover from extreme vibrations due to loud noise. In some situations, they don’t recover, which could lead to chronic or permanent hearing loss.
This type of noise-induced hearing damage is near-impossible to recover from. To make matters worse, there is no known remedy for permanently damaged ear canals.
Gaming Headsets and Hearing Loss
Gaming headsets can damage your ears like other loud noises do, resulting in what doctors call “noise-induced hearing loss.” However, the headset doesn’t have to be extremely loud to damage your ears. Even listening to a headset or earbuds at a moderate volume can cause deafness over time.
This is because, apart from noise volume, the length of exposure to noises can also harm your hearing. This is the same reason that going to a concert or being exposed to power tools is as harmful to your ears as loud gunfire or explosion. The duration of exposure is just as much a consideration as the volume.
|Noise Level||Time Before Damage||Equivalent To|
|80 dB||25 hours||Telephone Dial Tone|
|83 dB||12 hours|
|86 dB||6.5 hours||City Traffic|
|89 dB||3 hours|
|92 dB||1.5 hours||Highway Traffic|
|95 dB||45 minutes||Jackhammer 50’ away|
|98 dB||23 minutes|
|101 dB||12 minutes||Hand Drill at 3’|
|104 dB||6 minutes|
|107 dB||3 minutes||Lawnmower at 3’|
|110 dB||1.5 minutes|
|113 dB||>1 minute||Power Saw, Rock Concert|
Data via cdc.gov
As shown in the table above, louder noises cause hearing damage faster than quieter ones. However, the quiet ones can still cause damage through more prolonged exposure. For example, a 92 dB noise can cause hearing damage in under 2 hours, while the sound of a 107 dB lawnmower can damage your ears in less than 5 minutes.
Are Gaming Headsets Better Than Earbuds For Hearing Loss?
The decibel ratings in PLDs like headsets and earbuds greatly vary. Loudness is based on the volume of the gaming device or phone and the type of headset or earbuds.
For instance, regular iPod earbuds set at max volume can hit noise levels of up to 112 dB, leading to hearing damage in just a matter of minutes. But the same pair of earbuds at 60% volume has a noise level of approximately 80 dB—a safe level for playing games or listening to music for several hours.
The decibels decrease with distance, so the closer you are to the source of the sound (in this case, the PLD), the louder the noise is. For this reason, hearing experts highly recommend over-ear listening devices like headsets instead of in-ear ones like earbuds.
The extra distance between the ears and the speakers helps reduce the loudness levels, thus preventing hearing damage.
How To Protect Your Ears From Hearing Loss When Wearing A Gaming Headset?
Increase Awareness of Risks
Gamers should be aware of how much sound exposure they’re experiencing and what they can do to prevent hearing loss, especially when the risk of permanent damage is high.
The combination of three factors — volume, duration, and distance — creates a “sound dose.” If the dose is too high, the potential risk for hearing damage is just as high.
Unfortunately, gamers who use headsets or earbuds have no realistic way to measure the noise level they’re listening to and how much of their daily sound they’ve used up.
Currently, the only feasible preventive measure is to use some sound dose measurement software or app to help gauge their sound dose exposure, including guidance and optional protection. This way, they can be aware of the risks and make informed decisions about their hearing health.
Don’t Exceed Beyond 85% Volume
Again, the exact volume varies from one gaming headset to another. If you’re having difficulties hearing specific sounds, find out if they can be adjusted in the game. Otherwise, you can conduct a hearing test and configure audio settings based on your most preferred sound profile.
Making minor adjustments like this will not only put you a step ahead of the competition in the long term. Still, it will also help prevent damage to your ears.
Change Your System’s Master Volume
Tweaking your gaming system’s master volume means that when you’re tempted to turn your headset up, it won’t be able to go as loud. In return, you’re far less likely to keep going back to the system settings to adjust the volume again, especially if you’re in the heat of a battle.
By changing the master volume, you’ll protect your hearing in case you forget to turn it back down again.
Choose A Noise-Canceling Headset
Many gamers go for headsets to drown out external noises and keep turning up the volume as the sounds get louder. Consider buying a gaming headset with noise-canceling features to protect your ears from the perpetual increase in volume.
You can go for a model with passive noise-canceling capabilities, with a design that limits background noise with its high-density, thickly padded earcups that seal the ears from external sounds.
You can also choose an active noise-canceling headset that works by constantly monitoring sounds around you and generating soundwaves to filter out background noise.
Take Listening Breaks
If the tips above aren’t an option for you, do something as simple as taking breaks from your headset or switching between headset and speaker use.
Remember that the longer and the closer you listen to loud sounds, the higher the chances of damaging your ears. Take 5-minute breaks every 30 minutes or a 10-minute break every hour.
To be safe, follow the 60:60 rule: Listen at 60% of your headset’s max volume for 60 minutes, and then take a listening break.
Know the Early Signs of Hearing Loss
There are multiple red flags that you’re listening at a too-high volume. The most common warning sign includes difficulty hearing in loud environments and feeling like you’re hearing people but can’t understand what’s being said.
Another probable sign is when you take your headset off, sounds are muffled as if your ears are stuffed with cotton.
Tinnitus, or constant ringing in the ears, is also an early sign of ear damage. It means that loud noises have affected your auditory system negatively and are a warning sign for permanent hearing loss if you keep it up.
Get Your Ears Checked Regularly
If you’re one of those more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss, audiologists recommend getting your hearing checked at least once a year. If there are any noticeable changes in your hearing or new or worsening tinnitus, get your ears checked immediately.
The obvious thing to do is turn the volume down to prevent hearing damage from using a headset. Follow the 60:60 rule, keep the volume reasonable, and take occasional breaks as you game.
It’s quite simple: Don’t be a loudness junkie. As long as you’re sensible, you don’t have to worry about damaging your hearing anytime soon. If you’re still uncertain, follow the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) advice: Avoid noises that are too loud, too close, or last too long.