As a work tool, for leisure, while exercising or simply to drown the realities of our everyday hustle…headphones are a common sight in today’s world. For the younger generation, it may be trendy to always have the electronic ear buds tucked deep into their ears while they take a walk on the street or simply lie idle at home. The rhythm of the music may be in fact enthralling but experts say the effect of the very close sound on the hearing system may be very deleterious.
Often people complain about noise pollution, they focus on the external sources of noise coming from the neighbour next door or the religious centre down the street. However, the most dangerous type is that which is inflicted on themselves by themselves through the use of headphones or earbuds.
Headphones, experts say, are even the lesser of the two evils because earbuds could rupture the ear drums when shoved in too tightly.
Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist, Dr Diran Olabisi of Highway Specialist Hospital, Ibadan, explained the many ways by which such close noise could affect a man’s health. “Apart from the fact that it could cause deafness or other hearing complications; excessive noise has a number of negative effects. When you use headphones or earphones, the direct audio goes into your ears. Volume exceeding 90 decibels can result in hearing complication and even hear loss. All those who wear earphones and headphones are at higher risk of hearing loss and even complications in hearing,” he said.
Aside, deafness or hearing complications, experts say that earphones are capable of causing ear infections if they are not personal and are shared with other people because bacteria from ears of different people can easily travel through headphones.
“In most of cases, people who use regular earphones and headphones experience more ear wax which results in tinnitus, ear infection and even problems in hearing,” the ENT expert said.
Recent studies have shown that people who use earphones most of the time in the day to hear very loud music may develop numbness in their ears. Their hearing abilities may become numb for a while and then come back to normal. Numbness in hearing is very dangerous and can lead to deafness. There could also be cases of sharp pains in the ear. The electromagnetic waves produced by earphones may also pose serious danger to the brain. This is because the inner ear is directly linked to the brain, experts say.
Does it then mean we toss out all the earphones and tag them as life threatening? No, safety can be achieved in the use of headphones and earphones, experts say.
Dr Olabisi, explained thus: “Like we measure height in centimetres and weight in kilometres, noise is measured in decibels and the average amount of noise that doesn’t pose any risk to man is 85 decibels but once it goes beyond that into 95 or 100 decibels, it becomes dangerous to the ear cells and thus causes deafness. At 100 dB, just listening for 15 minutes can result in ear damage.
“So the key to protecting our ears is to ensure that sound doesn’t go beyond the recommended standard. Some smart phones will alert you when you are going beyond the safe volume while using your earphones. That is a good form of check.”
From other ear health experts around the world, here are other tips that can help ensure safety while using earphones.
Follow the 60/60 rule
Play your music at no more than 60 percent of maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day, says Tahl Colen, an otolaryngologist in New York City. “Loud sounds have potential to cause permanent damage to your inner ears, resulting in potentially permanent hearing loss,” he explains. “The important factors are the volume of the sound and the duration of exposure.”
If other people can hear your headphones, turn the music down
Your personal audio device is just that: personal. If individuals standing around you can hear your music, it’s too loud. “If you experience tinnitus or a ringing or buzzing in your ears after removing your device, or you experienced dulled hearing after pulling out your headphones, your music is too loud,” says Colen.
Other signs you need to turn the tunes down? If you raise your voice to be heard, if you can’t hear someone standing three feet away, or if speech sounds muffled or dull after listening to music, says Michelle R. Yagoda, an otolaryngologist in New York City. “A decibel meter app may be helpful in determining the level of the music you’re listening to.”
Don’t shove your earbuds in too far
If your buds aren’t staying in, you’re not fixing the problem by pushing them hard into your ears. Earbuds are designed to go a safe distance into the ear canal. While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to push them in further—unless maybe they’re faulty—doing so can cause harm. “If you push the earbud too far, you can damage the skin of the ear canal and potentially be at risk to develop an outer ear infection,” says Golla. “If pushed much further, you could potentially rupture the eardrum.”
Earbuds can be more dangerous than headphones
We’re not saying that earbuds are dangerous in general, but because they’re closer to your eardrum, you should be aware. “Earbuds can increase the sound intensity reaching your inner ear by as much as nine decibels when compared to over-the-ear headphones,” says Colen. “Earbuds also filter out less outside noise than traditional over-the-ear headphones. Therefore, people have a tendency to increase volume more with earbuds to compete against external sounds, resulting in higher listening volumes and higher risk of long-term hearing damage.”
Clean your buds regularly
For most healthy individuals, it’s rare to get an ear infection from earbuds. Still, it’s important to keep them from getting dirty. “They should be wiped down and cleaned at least once a week,” says Yagoda. “And headphones should not be shared. If they must be—like on a plane or something—they should be sanitized, or a cover should be used.”