Headphones/ Earphones May Cause Hearing Loss

This newer trend of using headphones or earphones most of the time is responsible for various measures of hearing impairments in newer generations. This way of hearing is definitely unnatural, and needs to be checked.

Mechanism of Damage

In a natural way, our ears gather up sounds waves from the surroundings, gradually converging it from over the pinna into the ear canal. Buffering or dampening occurs at each point to make it ear friendly, before the sound actually reaches inside.

In contrast, these ear phones force sound vibrations directly into the ear canal, bypassing all ways to smooth en it.

Sounds vibrations that come through ear phones or head phones are therefore very loud and rough, sometimes as loud as that of a jet plane.

Damaging sound waves fall mainly into three types-

Sounds that are too loud. Any sound greater that 80 DB is said to be harmful for human ear. When using an ear phone or headphone, this level has to be even low, as sounds are amplified to a great extent when they pass though the ear canal.

Hearing for too long. Even if you’re hearing at a low volume, if the period of use of these devices is long, it may be damaging. This may be because, sound is, after all, a form of energy and so it may start heating up the inner ear system after some time. Since, ear phones and head phones block the ear exit, there’s no way for this heat to dissipate.

High frequency sounds. These are powerful vibrations which pass through the ear canal only to get amplified and may directly damage inner ear cells. Even a short exposure to them can be dangerous.

Biology of Damage

It has been clinically observed and well documented now that ear phone and head phone use is leading to hearing loss of various degrees. However, how exactly does it damage the inner anatomy of the ear is still been studied.

Two mechanisms that have been well documented in this regard are as follows.

Stripping of the mylien sheath of ear nerves

Just as a electrical wire is covered by rubber or plastic tubing from outside, auditory nerve and its minute branches are also covered by a fatty sheath called mylein sheath. It has been seen that loud sounds can strip off portions of this sheath from the nerve, uncovering it at some points. This adversely affects the transmission of sound vibrations through it.

This type of hearing loss may be reversible with time, as the mylein sheath may again be laid down over the exposed portions of the nerve.

Ciliary Cell Damage

The innermost region of the ear contains some cells possessing minute sensitive hair like structures called cilia over them. These delicate structures play an important role in perceiving different sound vibrations and passing them on to the brain via auditory nerves.

Very high frequency sounds may directly damage these cilia, impairing hearing loss forever. This type of hearing loss is usually irreversible.

Symptoms Suggesting Auditory Damage

  • Perceiving ringing noise in the ear that continues for some time and then stops
  • Some people may hear a buzz or roar instead.
  • Pain in ear after use of ear/ head phones
  • Heated sensation or redness over the ear after ear/ head phone use
  • Plugged ear feeling
  • Difficulty understanding conversations, especially in a crowd
  • Need to raise volume of television or mobile speaker

If you have started developing any of these symptoms, you need to be cautious about further use of these devices.

Ways To Manage

Since using ear/ head phones is almost unavoidable these days, there are ways we can minimize the damage they cause.

  • Use them as infrequently as possible. If you are alone in the room, better not to use them and switch on the speakers instead.
  • Over the ear head phones are for better than in ear head phones, as far as damage is concerned. Ear phones are the most damaging of all.
  • Limit one session of use to half an hour. Take rest to dissipate heat before resuming the use again.
  • Use them as low volumes only.

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