Can Headphones Cause Hearing Loss?

Headphones are popular because they block out nearby sounds as you’re listening to music or a podcast, watching a movie, or talking on the phone. However, the potential damage caused to your ear at the expense of not disturbing other people is certainly not worth it. But can headphones cause hearing loss?

Headphones can cause hearing loss if you listen at high volume for a long time with few breaks. The hearing loss comes from damaged hair cells that become less sensitive to vibrations or bending and folding. Headphones can also carry germs that lead to infections and hearing loss.

In this article, I’ll take you through how headphones lead to a loss of hearing and ways to prevent this unfortunate occurrence.

Man with hearing loss

How Do Headphones Lead to Loss of Hearing?

The main way headphones cause damage to the ear is through listening at high volume. Listening to a good playlist at a high volume while resting, say by the pool or beach or at the comfort of your bed, can be very relaxing. However, this can lead to Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).

When headphones are in your ear, they produce sound waves, making the eardrum vibrate. The vibrations further spread to the inside part of the ear through the small bones reaching the cochlea. These vibrations cause the fluid in the cochlea to vibrate as well and the hair cells in the ears to move. The higher the sound, the stronger the vibration and the more the hair will move and vice versa. 

Exposing your ears to loud music for long periods makes the hair cells lose their sensitivity to vibration. Regaining their sensitivity may be impossible, leading to permanent hearing loss because they will no longer function normally. They may also bend and fold, leading to temporary loss of hearing.

Unfortunately, the volume doesn’t have to be high to cause the damage. Listening to moderate volume poses a risk too. This is because, for damage to the ear to occur, it doesn’t depend on how loud the volume is but how long the ear has been exposed. The high volume damage is undoubtedly felt and seen faster than that of low volume, which happens over time.

Furthermore, headphones can be exposed to areas where there are germs, depending on where you store them. Wearing the headphones over the ear enables the germs to travel into the ear. If these germs cause an ear infection, you can develop complications that may lead to hearing loss.

If you share headphones, the germs may transfer to another person too.

What Are the Signs of Hearing Loss?

Loss of hearing is a progressive process that has little warning and happens gradually. The only true diagnosis will come from an audiologist and hearing tests. However, if you notice that you are experiencing any of the signs below, your next stop should be at the doctor’s office:

  • A ringing sound in the ear
  • Difficulties in understanding what you’re being told in a noisy place
  • Feeling like your ear is blocked
  • Listening to music or TV at a higher volume than you’re used to

Further Damages Caused by Headphones 

Many people assume that the only damage you’ll experience from loud music is hearing loss. This is, however, not the case since headphones also cause further damages. Some are minor, while others can be critical, but none of them should be dismissed as they’re all serious.  

  • Dizziness as a result of increased pressure in the ear
  • Growth of bacteria in the ear since they block the passage of air
  • The ringing sound is caused by damaged hair cells in the cochlea
  • Excess earwax leading to frequent ear infections
  • Brain problems because of the electromagnetic waves produced
  • Soreness in the ear due to headphones that fit poorly

How To Avoid Hearing Damage From Headphones

Although headphones cause damages to your ear, you have the power to prevent this. It is your responsibility to make sure that your ears stay in tip-top shape to avoid any possible hearing loss or damage. Some of the precautions recommended by audiologists are listed below.

Turn Down the Volume

This is the first and most important step that you should take. Avoid exposing your ears to high volumes as it accelerates the damaging process. Even if lowering the volume isn’t “fun,” it can prevent lifelong hearing loss that you can never fully recover from.

Use Noise-Canceling Headphones

Noise-canceling headphones block out any external sound. Instead of increasing the volume every time to block out nearby conversations or car horns, invest in headphones that cancel out the noise, as this will prevent your ears from possible ear damage. 

There are two types of these headphones:

  • Active noise-canceling headphones that monitor nearby sounds and generate sound waves to cancel out these external noises
  • Passive noise-canceling headphones that limit external noise

I recommend the SONY WH-1000XM4 from Amazon.com, which has a dual noise sensor technology.

Opt for Over the Ear Headphones 

Apart from being more comfortable than their in-ear counterparts, over-the-ear headphones increase the distance between the eardrums and the speaker. On the other hand, in-ear headphones lay on the surface of the ear, shortening the distance. 

This distance created decreases the decibels, which is the degree of loudness. Normally, the sound volume is louder when it is closer to the source hence the theory above. Although over-the-ear headphones take up a lot of storage space and are also heavier than in-ear headphones, they are a better option if you consider your ears’ health.

Reduce Listening Time

Hearing loss can be a result of repeatedly exposing your ears to loud noise. Limit this exposure by reducing the time you spend listening to audios of high volume. You can also achieve this by setting a time limit. For instance, you can set an alert on your phone to notify you once you reach your time limit, say an hour or thirty minutes. 

Take Breaks in Between Listening Time

Longer listening time increases the chances of hearing loss. Audiologists recommend taking a five-minute break for every 30 minutes you spend with your headphones on. Additionally, you may consider taking the 60/60 thumb rule: the volume should be at 60% of your phone’s maximum limit, have the headphones on for 60 minutes, and then take a break.

Set Volume Limit

Setting a limit ensures that your ears are not exposed to high volume. Some phones allow you to set a limit for the volume, so check your phone’s manual to see whether it has this feature. For iPhone users, you can set the limit on the settings app in the volume limit option.

For a Samsung device, the video below will take you through how to set this limit:

Avoid Using Headphones

As harsh as it sounds, avoid using headphones altogether. This is the only sure way to prevent ear damage. It can also distract those around you, but your sense of hearing remains undisturbed and not under any risk. Why should you try to control something that you can prevent?

Treatment for Hearing Loss

Unfortunately, hearing loss caused by exposing your ear to loud music may be irreversible, so preventing it should be your primary concern. Fortunately, due to the invention of hearing aids and implants, you can partially regain your sense of hearing. Hearing aids and implants work by amplifying sounds.

Conclusion

The ear is a crucial and delicate organ. Therefore, you should be careful when listening to music with headphones. After all, the damage caused can be irreversible and make it hard to communicate. You may also not be able to enjoy your favorite tunes in the same way.