Personal listening devices—where would our workouts, jogs, public transit rides, and general privacy be without them? Whether you’re a devoted music fanatic, devourer of podcasts, or just someone looking for something more interesting than ambient background noise, it’s hard to imagine life without our earbuds (or the full over-the-ear cans for serious audiophiles). Unfortunately, soundtracking our lives can come at a cost by damaging our sensitive ears. Here are a few of the dangers of overusing headphones and earbuds that you should keep an eye—or rather an ear—out for.
There are some songs that demand to be played at maximum volume. As music lovers, one of the hardest things we have to do is refrain from bringing ear-blasting concerts with us to our workouts. Sustained exposure to high decibels can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. If you believe your hearing has been suffering and affecting your daily life, consider scheduling a hearing test to gauge whether you’ve experienced significant hearing loss.
It’s not just hearing loss that can come about from too much exposure to loud sound close to the eardrums. High decibels can also cause tinnitus, a persistent or intermittent ringing or buzzing sound in the ears arising from no natural auditory stimulus. Musicians who routinely perform high-decibel concerts often find themselves suffering from tinnitus as an occupational hazard of sorts. You’re not getting paid enough to deal with the ringing yourself. Keep volume levels at or below your smartphone’s recommended volume—most will tell you when enough is enough and override your volume setting themselves.
Ear Wax Buildup
One of the dangers of overusing headphones or earbuds that may not immediately occur to you is their effect on ear wax production. Under normal circumstances, you should never truly need Q-tips to clean your ears, no matter how good it may feel—the ear is a self-cleaning organ and sheds its earwax on its own. Life with near-constant earbuds, however, is not a normal circumstance. The ears react to the intrusion of earbuds by believing they must protect themselves against a foreign object, which they do by producing more wax. This wax becomes impacted and stays in the ear canal, reducing hearing. Do not, under any circumstances, try to extract deeply impacted ear wax with a cotton swab, pen cap, or anything else around the house that you can fit into your ear. If you suspect ear wax is affecting your hearing, see your doctor for a quick and easy in-office procedure to clean your ears. An ill-advised DIY solution could send you to the doctor for something worse.