Ear & Balance

Attention Music Lovers: Here’s What Using Earbuds Do to You

February 1, 2020

Like many people around the world, many Singaporeans love to listen to their favorite tunes and podcasts on their commute. But did you know that when you turn on the music you receive more than just entertainment? At 70% of the volume, you are listening to about 90 decibels of sound!


That’s like being in a live rock concert. Any ENT Specialist in Singapore will advise that loud sound levels that are close to your ear are damaging to your ears, especially on a long-term basis.


Turning up the volume on your earbuds puts you at risk of permanent hearing loss. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), 1.1 billion people worldwide could lose their ability to hear because of personal audio devices.


Earbuds do more than that just increasing the risk of hearing damage or loss. Read on and find out.



Why you’re likely to crank up the volume


Most earbuds are not designed to block out noises from the environment. Therefore, it is likely that external noises would interfere with your listening and trigger you to crank up the volume.


Another problem is that some earbuds cannot transmit low-frequency (or bass) sounds very well. So, you’re likely to turn up the volume to hear the ‘bass.’ While you do that, you may be exposing your ear to higher intensity high frequency sounds that may result in hearing loss.


Loud sounds can damage the cilia, which are tiny hair-like structures in the cochlea, that carries sound to the brain. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot regenerate cilia. Hence, prolonged exposure to loud noises or sounds can cause permanent hearing loss.



Earbuds may result in earwax buildups or foreign body being stuck in the ear canals 


This is a complication that ENT Specialists may have observed among adult patients who complain of discomfort or pain in the ears after using earbuds. Earbuds does push your earwax deeper into the ear canal. If you tend to produce more earwax than normal, frequent use of earbuds may result in an impacted earwax. This may then cause a blocked feeling in the ear, hearing loss, ear pain, tinnitus (ringing sound in the ear) and sometimes ear infections.


Less frequently, the soft silicon part of the earbuds can get dislodged and stuck in the ear canal. This can result in a blocked ear, which may require an ENT specialist to look into if the general practitioner does not have the right equipment to remove the dislodged earbuds.



You risk infections


Our ears canals are moist, warm and dark. It’s the perfect breeding environment for bacteria and other pathogens if unwanted microorganisms are introduced to your ears.


When you grab and plug the earbuds straight into your ears without a quick cleaning or disinfecting, it may increase the risk of ear canal infections. Wearing them for prolonged periods will likely make it worse.  You may experience ear pain and ear discharge, and treatment may include ear cleaning under microscope guidance (often known as “ear microsuctioning” or “aural toilet”) by an ENT specialist.


Entertainment on the move is an amazing innovation. With devices such as iPods and smartphones abundantly available, earbuds are here to stay. But you can protect your hearing by lowering the volume and limiting your exposure to extremely loud noises. It is also recommended to use headphones which increases the distance between the speakers and your eardrums, thus lowering the chances for hearing damage or loss. If you are having problems hearing, visit an ENT Specialist where a hearing test may be performed to help assess your condition.



Medically reviewed by Dr Gan Eng Cern

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