Headphone Habits During Lockdown

7 July 2020



The last three months or so have been the most extraordinary in my life.

Fortunately whilst several of my immediate family have had Covid 19 they have made good recoveries with no apparent long lasting effects. I do hope that you and yours are faring well in these challenging times.

As someone with a keen interest in human behaviour I have been intrigued by the changes we have been forced to make to our everyday lives, some of them negative (I miss cuddling my kids and grandkids, the pub and just being with friends) though some are positive (random acts of kindness, caring for our friends and the sense of community).

Being interested in hearing safeguarding in general and amongst headphone users in particular I wondered what effect, if any, the move to home working had had on my friend’s and family’s listening habits, so I conducted a completely unscientific survey.

Starting with my own household, there are just two of us, my wife, Barbara and I. We live in a house with a garden. Social isolation has meant much more time in the house together. We are both fed up with Radio 5 Live (as it seems to be 24 hour pandemic news) so we have opted to listen to podcasts. Sadly our tastes differ so we listen to several hours a week on our own headphones, increasing our sound exposure moderately. As someone closely involved in hearing safeguarding we both monitor our exposure and make sure that we don’t overdo it.

Friend 1 who is in the music business and lives with his wife and two children under ten, in a house with a garden. With no live events for him to perform at he is working in his home studio for six or seven hours a day creating virtual gigs, festivals and play lists, all of it on headphones. His eldest son is being taught remotely and spends three or four hours per day five days per week wearing headphones. When not attending virtual school he is watching videos or gaming for another two or three hours per day. Clearly Friend 1 and his son are at increased risk of high level of exposure, but fortunately have both taken steps to safeguard their hearing.

Friend 2 works in the City of London and is furloughed. His ears are likely getting a rest! He lives in a leafy part of north London with his girlfriend who is still working. There is a lot less traffic, so less ambient noise and he doesn’t have to commute on the tube for two hours a day, so as long as he isn’t using his time at home to play computer games wearing headphones his ears may well be getting a rest.

Friend Number 3 is working from home with her husband, a young twenties daughter (back from University) and a teenage son. Friend 3 is taking part in dozens of work Zoom calls per week, all of them using headphones. Key thing to remember here is that if you have to wear headphones to do your job, your employer has a responsibility to make sure that you do not become over exposed even if you are working from home. Daughter is probably doing what she did at University, working, listening to music, watching films and keeping up with social media so whilst her exposure level is likely to be high it is likely a little different than it would be were she still at University. The most worrying change in this household is Friend 3’s teenage son, again virtually schooled for two or three hours a day, but topped up with several hours a day of Minecraft. Friend 3’s employer should take steps to protect their hearing as they are working and covered by the Noise at Work regulations. Their daughter and son ought to consider monitoring their exposure and if necessary changing their behaviour.

Finally, Friend 4, is in her 30’s, in the music business, lives with her boyfriend in a lovely one bed flat with a small balcony and both of them are working from home. Apparently they wear headphones 10 hours a day five days a week and sometimes a couple of hours at the weekend too which will lead to a massive increase in exposure. Friend 4 and her boyfriend’s employer should take steps to protect their hearing as they are both working and covered by the Noise at Work regulations.

Clearly avoiding contracting Covid19 is the most important issue for most of us so we should take whatever precautions necessary, but we ought to be conscious of other changes to our routines that may cause us or our families permanent harm, such as hearing damage.

Stay safe.

Stephen Wheatley CEO, Hear Angel


Written by Hearing


Submit a Comment

Learn more about us

Our focus is on preventable causes of hearing loss and hearing health impact through common sense, cost effective, evidenced solutions.