In a world where privacy and independence are fast-depleting (at least as far as the virtual world goes!), headphones give you both. You could be in a public place, and still keep your audio environment to yourself, thanks to this wonderful technological invention. It is no wonder then, that headphone use is on the rise.In an interview with Wired Magazine, Dr Michael Bull, personal music devices expert at the University of Sussex, said, 'People like to control their environment, and music is the most powerful medium for thought, mood, and movement control.'The global earphones and headphones market is projected to reach 129.26 billion by 2030. According to an India Headset Market published last year by 6W Research, the domestic market will grow at a CAGR of 4.7 per cent between now and 2027. It is wonderful to think that you can drown out the world outside with very little effort or investment. But theres obviously one downside to this your ear health. As with anything else, the increased use of headphones is not without its negative repercussions.Mumbai-based Dr Rachna Mehta Shroff, an ENT doctor and neck surgeon says, Right from school children who have online classes, to college goers, working professionals, and senior citizens, the impact of headphones has been felt by everyone. This has become a common complaint across all age groups now. While avoiding them entirely is not an option especially if ones work or education depends on it theres no denying that hearing loss induced by excessive headphone use is on the rise. However, it is very much preventable and you can still safeguard your ears!Shroff says, What matters first is the volume. Regulate the volume from moderate to low. Listen at around 50 60 per cent volume of your device or 50 60 decibels. This will ensure there is no noise-induced damage to your ears. Anything above 80-85 per cent volume should be avoided thats where hearing impairment starts. She further reiterates that headphones are better than earphones because the distance between sound production and the eardrum is more, reducing the impact. The best option is to use noise-cancellation headphones. Here, the ambient noise is absent, so you keep the volume low on your device as well. If there is noise outside and you increase the volume, its eventually going to take its toll on your ears. Also, minimise the duration of headphone use as much as possible. If your job is to put on and use your headphones constantly, take noise breaks. Just as you take breaks from screen time for your eyes, or to stretch your legs, noise breaks are very important. Take 5-10 minutes for every hour that youre listening to something. And by break, I mean no ambient noise like television or Instagram reels!This year, wireless earbuds in India marked a 168 per cent growth, with Indian companies bringing in affordable options alongside global technological giants. Sleep therapist Hemamalini Sundar Uday from Bangalore says that the loud use of headphones is also linked with health risks other than ear damage. Not only does it disrupt your REM cycle, which is the deepest and most important part of sleep, anything over 120 decibels which is almost as loud as a rock concert could also affect the nerve tissue in the brain. When left untreated, this in turn has a high chance of resulting in cognitive decline or premature dementia. Another major problem with using headphones constantly is that it builds earwax by suppressing it inside the ear. Studies have also shown that prolonged headphone use is associated with poor focus and concentration, and the hearing damage caused by these devices is often not reversible. Keep in mind three things intensity, duration, and frequency. Balance all these in moderation and you should be fine.Shroff highlights another problem area with using headphones - cleanliness and hygiene. Not keeping your earplugs or earbuds or headphones clean or even sharing them with others, is a no-no. If you cant keep them private, make sure theyre cleaned after every use. For people who work in pubs, clubs, and other noisy places, there are special earplugs for noise cancellation, which reduce the ambient noise, but not the voices of people speaking to you. Consider investing in these to safeguard against loud noises in your environment.If you have pain or discomfort or hearing loss because of excessive headphone use, go on what Shroff calls a noise diet which is self-explanatory. However, if pain or hearing loss still continues after a day or two, visit your doctor at the earliest to get it checked. Other than pain or loss of hearing, also watch out for buzzing or ringing within the ear, muffled sounds and the feeling of your ear being waterlogged, and difficulty following speech and conversations that were never a problem earlier.The WHO estimates that 50 per cent of the worlds population in middle and high-income countries aged between 12 and 35 use personal audio devices today. In the words of DJ Khaled, Its safe to say headphones are a good business. Hes probably right, but this doesnt mean that we throw all caution to the winds and indiscriminately use them. It is important to pick up a good quality pair of headphones or earphones that consider your health and also use them wisely to prevent any hearing problems. This is all the more vital if you want to continue feeling the joy of a private phone call, your favourite podcast, or the music you love most.