Hearing loss caused by earbud headphones

Post on 17th June 2015

Earbud headphones, even at low volume, may be causing permanent damage to your hearing.

For decades, scientists have looked, almost exclusively, at the loss of hair cells as an indicator of hearing loss. But a study released by the Acoustical Society of America reports a “hidden hearing loss,” shedding new light on hearing protection.

Sound waves travel through the middle ear into the cochlea of the inner ear, where they stimulate hair cells. The organ of Corti, inside the cochlea, transforms the physical motion of the hair cells into electronic pulses for the brain. It’s here the discovery was made.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School’s Eaton Peabody Laboratory learned you can lose up to 90 per cent of your cochlear nerve fibres without losing the ability to detect a tone in quiet conditions. But once background noise is introduced, hearing ability drops dramatically. So, hair cells may be intact, but hearing is still lost if the nerves are damaged.

Earbud headphones deliver stronger, more damaging waves straight to the cochlea — even at lower volumes. And without a known treatment for cochlear nerve damage, researchers strongly recommend exercising caution.

“A nerve fibre will never reconnect,” said Charles Liberman, director of the Eaton Peabody Lab, in the study. “It no longer responds to sound and within a few months or years, the rest of the neuron will disappear.”

The best thing to do is replace your ear buds with regular over-the-ear headphones, and apply the 60/60 rule. This rule is all about keeping the volume under 60 per cent of the maximum volume, and only listen to a maximum of 60 minutes a day of music.

Scrivens Opticians & Hearing Care’s Hearing Aid Audiologist Stuart Spencer said: “Earbud headphones are the worst type you can wear in terms of your hearing health. I would recommend investing in a good over-the-ear pair of headphones that have a noise-cancelling feature to them.”

To find your nearest Scrivens Opticians & Hearing Care branch and to book a free NHS hearing check visit our home page.