How Earphones Damage Our Hearing

According to audiologist Julie Prutsman, earphone overuse, especially with AirPods, leads to increased tinnitus and hearing loss. Misuse, extended wear, and poor hygiene contribute to ear damage, highlighting the need for better public awareness and ear care.

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The Apple community forum page saw the creation of a new thread with the heading “AirPods causing tinnitus?” on November 24, 2019.

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After using the AirPods for a while, the Apple customer claimed to have experienced a high-pitched ringing in his ears that persisted.

He claims that he has always taken great care to preserve his hearing; he never listens to loud music and always wears earplugs in case he comes into contact with anything that can impair it. However, things continued to worsen.

“Having said all that, now I notice that when I put my AirPods in my ears and have nothing playing, they emit a high-pitched tone that I would say exactly replicates the tone of my tinnitus, leaving to me believe that the AirPods actually caused my tinnitus,” the user wrote.

More than 3,200 Apple users have replied to the topic since it was posted in 2019 by saying, “Me too.”

According to Julie Prutsman, an audiologist and the founder of the Sound Relief Hearing Center, the advent of Apple wireless earbuds has had a considerable impact on earphone use, with younger generations utilizing them more than older generations. She has noticed in the last several years that a growing number of younger patients with tinnitus and hearing loss come into her clinics.

Most of the earphones used by teenagers these days are Apple products, such as AirPods. In the US headphone and earphone market in 2021, Apple products came in top. Seventy-two percent of kids surveyed in a 2022 Piper Sandler survey—which included over 7,000 teens—owned AirPods.

The audiologist told The Epoch Times that the primary issue is not with the type of headphones people use, but rather with a widespread behavior: careless earphone use. Better sound quality and the handy wireless and noise-canceling functions have made people’s usage of these devices even worse.

“It is becoming a real issue,” Ms. Prutsman said, “and unfortunately, they’re not educated about what can happen.”

High ‘Dose’ and Prolonged Use

According to the American Osteopathic Association, 20 percent of today’s teens will suffer from hearing loss, partly as a result of using headphones and earbuds. An analysis that was published in the International Journal of Audiology revealed that between 6 and 60 percent of people who wear headphones experience hearing loss symptoms, such as tinnitus and difficulty hearing.

In addition, an increasing number of young people habitually use earbuds. According to a University of Michigan survey conducted in February, two-thirds of parents whose children are between the ages of five and twelve said that their kids use headphones and earbuds.

The majority of individuals are aware that loud noises can harm ears. But Brazilian otorhinolaryngologist Dr. Clarice Saba noted that prolonged low-volume listening might potentially cause harm.

Earphones are worn at work, at home, and even while sleeping. Wearing earbuds for hours can still overwork the ears, according to Dr. Saba, even when the sounds aren’t constantly loud.

Our ears contain a structure called the cochlea. It converts sound waves into electrical signals that are sent to the brain, and it is located beneath the eardrum. Long-term earphone use strains and harms cochlea cells. Hearing loss may result if some of them pass away.

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The cochlea sits behind the ear drum and turns sound waves into electrical signals that are then transmitted to the brain. (Illustration by The Epoch Times, Shutterstock)

According to Ms. Prutsman, the harm caused by noise is cumulative and “dose-dependent.” According to a 2021 study that was published in the journal Medicine, one in five teenagers who use headphones in noisy environments for more than 80 minutes a day had hearing loss. When compared to people who use earbuds for shorter periods of time, the dangers are 4.7 times higher.

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Using earphones for 80 minutes or more increases the risk of hearing loss by almost fivefold. (Illustration by The Epoch Times, Shutterstock)

The person may have diminished sound sensitivity, difficulty perceiving sound, tinnitus, or even hearing loss, depending on the extent of the injury.

Maintaining earphones in the ear canals all the time can also create a damp, crowded environment that can encourage ear infections. In comparison to over-ear headsets, they also produce more in-ear pressure.

Particularly, in-ear earphones irritate the sensitive skin within our ears. Otolaryngologist Dr. Michael Seidman told The Epoch Times, “If you accidentally scratch the ear while inserting the AirPods, there can be micro-breaks in the skin that can lead to infection.”

Additionally, there’s a chance that some users don’t clean their earbuds regularly, which raises the risk. The majority of the canal is kept from receiving outside oxygen by the earpieces, which compromises the ear microbiome’s health.

Dr. Saba stated, “The skin in the ears needs to breathe,” drawing a comparison to the hands. “If you use gloves all the time, you can have problems.”

Noise Cancellation

More noise-canceling headphones and earphones have been available recently, giving consumers the much-needed privacy to keep their music private from others around them.

However, there are limitations to noise cancellation.

Because these earbuds block out outside noise, extended use of them may cause hyperacusis, a disorder where the brain becomes less sensitive to sound, and even normal sounds like typing on a keyboard or coughing might cause anxiety.

Recently, GreatGameIndia reported that according to a recent study by experts at Stanford University, Apple’s Vision Pro may “rewire” the brain.

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