Whether you’re listening to music during your workout or making use of a Bluetooth headset to chat on the go, many of us rely on headphones frequently in our daily lives. However, doctors are now issuing a warning about the impact of prolonged use on our health and well-being – are you at risk?
If you’re like me, you don’t go anywhere without your headphones in tow – a distraction when at the doctor’s office or on that long commute, a welcome companion during your daily walk, or a tool in removing yourself from an uncomfortable social situation. However, you may want to think twice before popping in those earbuds and cranking up the tunes.
Here are 7 risks of headphone/earbud use you may be overlooking:
#1 – Earwax Build Up and Blockage
While this point may not impact everyone the same, it’s a point that’s worth consideration. If you are someone who is prone to excessive earwax, or if you are currently experiencing a bug that is promoting greater earwax production, then earbud-style headphones are definitely not a wise choice. Why? The headphones can actually force the wax deeper into the ear canal, causing it to compact and cause trauma to the ear.
In fact, many users report feeling like their ears are ‘blocked’ after extended headphone use, a feeling that can be uncomfortable or even painful. This one is relatively easy to mitigate by switching to over the ear style headphones instead of earbuds.
#2 – Long-term Hearing Damage
It’s not that the use of headphones in and of itself necessarily causes hearing loss, it’s the volume level at which we are listening to our music. When you pop your headphones in and hit play, do you stop to consider whether your music is too loud? If you answered ‘no’, you’re not alone!
Experts report that the average MP3 player today is capable of producing a volume that is equal to a rock concert at 120 decibels, which, when listened to for prolonged periods, is loud enough to cause some serious long-term damage. In fact, at that level, you may experience damage as quickly as 15 minutes. If you are wearing earbuds and can’t hear anything happening around you, it’s time to turn down the volume!
Audio Recovery wrote as follows on this topic:
Headphones cause damage to your ears the same way other loud noises do, resulting in what audiologists call “noise-induced hearing loss.” Over time the sounds from your headphones cause the hair cells in the cochlea to bend down too much or too severely. If they don’t get time to recover, the damage can be permanent.
However, headphones don’t have to be extremely loud to damage your ears. Even listening to headphones or earbuds at a moderate volume can damage your hearing over time. That’s because your ears are not just damaged by the loudness of a noise, but by the length of exposure as well. That’s the same reason going to a concert or using loud power tools can damage your ears as much as a much louder gunshot or explosion. The duration of the exposure matters just as much as the volume.
#3 – Exposure to Bluetooth Radiation
While many experts will tell you that the amount of radiation emitted from Bluetooth devices like headphones is incredibly low, too low to be considered dangerous to humans, we have to step back and consider for a moment – that is in no way denying the fact we’re being exposed. Furthermore, with the frequency of headphone use in today’s society, this isn’t occasional use, it’s an ongoing exposure.
The big concern when it comes to Bluetooth radiation at this time, and the reason that it has made this list, is simply because we don’t know enough. There is so much conflicting data out there that it would be irresponsible to not at least consider the possibility that it could be causing long-term damage, however small that may be.
#4 – Increased Risk of Ear Infections
The biggest concern when it comes to the use of headphones and ear infections is the fact that we so readily share our headphones with our friends without thinking twice. However, in doing so you are exposing your ear cavity to any germs that your friend may currently possess. It’s like having a cold bug and sharing a cup, you’re actively sharing harmful bacteria without realizing it.
Not only should we be cautious about the idea of sharing our headphones, but we should also be taking the time to disinfect them regularly. You need to be careful not to submerge them in water and damage them, but a few minutes of your time can cut back drastically on the bacteria you are introducing to your system on an ongoing basis. Don’t get me wrong the risks of infection by this means are slim but we should still be aware of them. While you might not mind sharing earbuds with your friends, it’s not the most sanitary practice.
Starsky wrote as follows on this topic:
Reports vary on whether sharing earbuds is safe. Business Insider tested 22 pairs of in-the-ear style earbuds at Columbia University’s microbiology lab. Most of the samples yielded results that researchers expected, testing positive for bacteria found on our skin, like staphylococcus. There was one surprise though: two of the samples tested positive for yeast. Yeast is a type of fungus that can cause infection, you can even get a yeast infection in your ears.
Sharing earbuds can introduce new bacteria into your ears, doubling the microbial flora in our ears. And while most of the bacteria is harmless, and the odds of something bad happening are slim, the risk of developing middle ear infections, fungus, and swimmer’s ear does increase when you share earbuds. If there is a cut in your ear canal, sharing can also cause a skin infection.
#5 – Decreased Productivity
While this point may not be directly related to your health, it’s definitely one that could have an impact on your overall well-being and way of life. Studies show that listening to music may actually have a negative impact on your productivity. Therefore, if you’re popping those headphones in before studying or getting to work, you could be directly impacting your ability to succeed in a very negative way.
While listening to music is often seen as a passive activity, experts warn that it does actually involve part of your brain during listening sessions. Therefore, it takes some of your focus away from the task at hand. While it may not be as ‘fun’, if you’re looking to power through your work or ace that next test, you might want to put the headphones away.
#6 – Increased Risk of Vertigo
If you have noticed that you are struggling with feelings of dizziness, sweating, headaches, nausea, vomiting or ringing in your ears, you may be suffering from vertigo. While this isn’t considered to be a serious problem, it is incredibly uncomfortable, disrupts your life, and can increase your risk of injury due to falling. The cause? You may be surprised to learn that your headphones may be responsible.
A study actually found that the prolonged use of headphones may actually impact your inner ear in a way that can lead to disorientation, bringing on symptoms of vertigo. If you are experiencing signs of vertigo, discontinue headphone use. If this is, in fact, contributing to your condition, discontinued use will help you find relief.
#7 – Increased Accidents from Noise Canceling Headphones
Okay, so you may have taken precautions to lower some above risks by purchasing a pair of over the ear, noise-canceling headphones in place of the all too common earbuds. However, there’s one concerning trend over the last decade – as more of us are running around with our headphones on, the number of accidents involving pedestrians wearing headphones has been on the rise.
The biggest reason? These headphones prevent us from hearing what is happening around us, which hinders our ability to keep ourselves safe. We are living in our own little ‘bubble’, preventing us from hearing the movement of vehicles around us, the verbal warnings of other pedestrians, etc. In order to keep ourselves safe, we need to be more aware, and our headphones certainly aren’t promoting that.