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The 3 Dangers of Earbuds

By Krista Elliott

The news has been awash lately with stories about Apple's new iPhone, particularly about its new wireless earbuds and the omission of a headphone jack from the phone itself. The reaction to this development has really highlighted just how smartphones and earbuds go hand-in-hand (or earbud-in-ear, if being technical about it). Whether listening to a podcast on the bus or letting our favorite tunes motivate us during a workout, the ubiquitousness of smartphones has resulted in more and more people walking around with earbuds in for a large chunk of the day. 

So that all sounds (no pun intended) pretty harmless, right? Well ... maybe not. 

Sorry, I Couldn't Hear You

Sound-induced hearing loss is an increasing problem among young people. When you listen to music at loud volumes for extended periods, you damage the tiny hair cells in the cochlea ... the ones that help send sound messages to your brain. The more cells that are damaged, the more messages that get missed, and the harder it becomes to hear. Earbuds, by sending sound straight down the ear canal, result in a relative increase in volume of up to nine decibels which, at higher volumes, can make the difference between hair cells that are alive and ones that are destroyed. And once those cells are destroyed, they don't regenerate. 

Hey, Watch Out!

When you're out walking or biking, part of staying safe on the road is having the ability to hear cars approaching. Tuning out the world by turning up your volume exposes you to an increased chance of having an accident. Sure, vehicles need to follow the rules of the road, but if something is heading your way and you can't see OR hear it coming, it could end tragically. 

Swamp Ear

You know what lives in your ears? Moisture. Ears are dark and damp, and the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. When you grab your earbuds off the table or out of your bag and stick them in your ears, any bacteria on the earbuds has been given a one-way ticket into your ear canal. And by wearing your earbuds for long periods, it's impossible for air to enter the canal, resulting in an increasingly damp setting. The payoff? Painful ear infections. 

So, what's the answer? Three things will make your hearing experience safer and more pleasant. 

First of all, instead of earbuds, invest in a set of headphones. Noise-canceling headphones are great for non-traffic areas because you can keep the volume lower and still hear your podcast or music. When out and about, regular folding headphones will do the trick nicely. 

Second, turn down the volume. Yeah, it's fun to blast your GWAR or Celine Dion, but save that for home when you can do it sans headphones. 

And third, if you have to wear earbuds, limit the time, lower the volume, and for heaven's sake, would you please clean them once in a while? 

Your hearing and your safety are both irreplaceable. Treat them wisely when listening to your tunes, and you'll have them for life. 

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