Tinnitus and Headphones - What You Need To Know

Woman wearing headphone

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, affects millions of people worldwide. While the exact cause of tinnitus is unknown, loud noise is a known risk factor. Headphones are a popular way to listen to music or other audio content, but they can also be a source of loud noise, contributing to tinnitus.

If you frequently use headphones, you should know the potential risks and take precautions to protect your hearing. Here’s what you should know about tinnitus and headphones.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound without an external sound source. It can sound like a persistent ringing, buzzing, hissing, or other noises. According to Mayo Clinic, tinnitus is a common condition affecting 15-20% of the population.

Tinnitus is frequently associated with hearing loss but can also occur in people with normal hearing. Several factors, including loud noise exposure, age-related hearing loss, ear infections, and certain medications, can cause it.

How do headphones contribute to tinnitus?

Headphones can exacerbate tinnitus in several ways. To begin with, if the volume is too loud, headphones can produce sound levels loud enough to damage your hearing. This can happen even if you only use your headphones for short periods.

Second, in-ear or noise-cancelling headphones can block out external sounds. This can be useful in noisy environments, but it can also make it easier to listen at high volumes, as you may need to learn how loud the sound is.

Finally, wearing headphones for long periods can contribute to tinnitus. This is because prolonged exposure to sound can cause auditory system fatigue, resulting in the perception of ringing or other sounds.

How to protect your hearing when using headphones

If you use headphones frequently, there are several steps you can take to protect your hearing and reduce the risk of tinnitus:

  1. Use noise-cancelling headphones. Noise-cancelling headphones can help block out external sounds, reducing the need to listen at high volumes.
  2. Take regular breaks. Taking breaks from using headphones can help reduce fatigue in the auditory system.
  3. Use the 60/60 rule. To avoid listening at dangerous levels, set the volume to no more than 60% of the maximum, and listen for no more than 60 minutes at a time.
  4. Invest in quality headphones. Cheap headphones can produce poor sound quality, leading to the need to listen at higher volumes.
  5. See an audiologist. If you are experiencing tinnitus or have concerns about your hearing, see an audiologist for a hearing evaluation.

Tinnitus is a common condition caused by loud noise, including using headphones. Using headphones to protect your hearing can reduce your chances of developing tinnitus and maintain good hearing health. Remember to use noise-cancelling headphones, take regular breaks, follow the 60/60 rule, invest in high-quality headphones, and consult an audiologist if you have hearing problems.

If you or your family are experiencing hearing loss, ensure a trustworthy audiologist checks your ear. You may or may not be recommended hearing aids. However, hearing aids should provide hearing and enhance their perception of speech and other sounds. Hearing aids can, however, not restore hearing back to normal hearing. If hearing aids are not enough, ask for a recommendation on cochlear implants.

You should contact your family doctor or a hearing health care professional if you have bilateral hearing loss. The Listening Lab Malaysia also offers treatment options for patients of any age group with hearing loss. You may also contact us for enquiry on hearing loss or hearing aids.