Earphone Use – Critical Issues to Consider
Earphones which became common at the beginning of the 20th century were used to listen electrical audio signals before amplifiers were developed by Nathaniel Baldwin.
Today, young and old people use earphones for various reasons. For instance, many young people find it as a good tool to listen to music or receive calls while walking on the street or doing some other things.
Unfortunately, listening to music through earphones, sharing of the earphone with other people and taking the volume beyond reasonable levels all have health implications.
Doctors have long warned of the damaging effects of prolonged exposure to loud music via earphones.
The popularity of portable cassette players in the 1980s led to studies claiming that around 1 in 20 people were risking Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.
Yet while there is no doubt that exposure to loud noise from, for example, machinery can lead to permanent damage, evidence that music from portable devices does the same has remained elusive. That’s changing, however, as scientists focus on finding actual physical damage to nerves.
Dr Martine Hamann and colleagues at the University of Leicester recently published the first evidence of such harm, by showing that loud noises strip nerve cells of their protective coating, preventing them from reliably transmitting signals from the ear to the brain.
This confirms previous studies showing that even brief exposure to loud music can reduce the sensitivity of the ear.
But the finding also explains why evidence of permanent damage has been elusive. Dr Hamann found that nerve cells repair themselves, replacing the outer layer after a few months – if they’re given the chance.
Facts about earphone use and bacteria
A study  which measured bacteria levels on audio headsets provided on commercial airline flights brings interesting conclusions.
Each typical headset had 60 microorganisms on its surface at the start; after an hour’s use of the headphones by a volunteer, that number went up to 650; roughly 11 times more.
The authors concluded that it’s more likely that the heat and humidity created in the user’s ears cause “resident organisms from the skin, sweat and glands” to congregate out in the open, which to some might seem more worrying.
Another study has revealed that frequent use of earphones significantly increases bacteria growth in the ear.
The authors, researchers from a University located in India, also found that bacteria could transfer from one person’s ear to another’s if using the same headset.
Harmful bacteria was found on 92% of ear swabs taken from people who regularly shared their earphones with friends, compared with only 8% of those who shared less frequently or not at all.
According to this finding, it would seem sharing of earphones should be avoided, or at least should be cleaned thoroughly before sharing with others.
Some issues that may occur with constant and repetitive earphone use
Here are some issues to consider with repetitive earphone use
Pain in the ear
Constant removal/insertion, and repeated use, may irritate the jawbone joint (temporomandibular joint) located near the ear canal.
This is mainly related to the foam in-ear phones which expand inside the ear canal, and may lead to general pain and discomfort in the ear.
Irritation in the ear
A bad fit of ear buds may tear or irritate the skin inside the ear due to repeated adjustments. This may cause to growth of bacteria and hence infections.
Infections in the ear
IF the ear is not ventilated enough throughout the day, outer ear infections may occur. Remember to eject the earphones every hour for a few minutes, to allow the ear to “breath”.
It is important to clean your earphones regularly, to prevent development and buildup of bacteria. This would lead to infections in the ear.
Tips and precautions with earphones
- To prevent infections, clean your ears regularly. A known recommendation is dropping two drops of olive oil into your ear canal to remove any wax build up.
- Cleanse and disinfect your head phones regularly. A simple anti-bacterial soap solution and a thorough rinsing should be adequate to ensure your earphones are good to go! (To ensure they keep working, remove the foam/silicone cover from the earphones first, then clean the covers only. most earphones are not water resistant).
- Keep your hands in good hygiene – wash them constantly, especially before using earphones.
- Keep your ears clean and dry. Use Q-tips to clean them gently, and only on the outer part of the ear.
It is easy to overlook the hygiene aspect of earphones, but it is important to remember that they are constantly exposed to dust, dirt and moisture.
If you are not careful, these continually enter your body through the ear phones and in to your ear canal.