Will Headphones Damage Your Hearing?

Published on October 05, 2014 by Dr. Cameron Mcintyre

With technology continuing to advance at a rapid pace, many of us have our favorite playlists or programs on our phones or other devices and are actively listening via headphones over the course of the day. I am particularly thinking of high school and university students who always seem to be plugged in during their commutes to and from school and even classrooms. That being said, it is common to see young children in cars wearing headphones on their morning commutes, and many gym goers hooked into their playlists for getting a good workout in.

The issue with listening to music or movies via headphones, as you are all aware, is the volume level at which you listen. In a study done a few years ago at the University of Leicester, it was shown that listening via headphones at higher volume levels can be as dangerous as hearing noise from jet engines. This research demonstrated that higher volumes of sound damage auditory (ear) nerve cell coatings which can lead to impaired hearing, tinnitus (buzzing or ringing) or temporary deafness. Issues were seen with part of the brain known as the dorsal cochlear nucleus, an area that relays signals from nerve cells in the ear to the brain which then decodes and makes sense of the sounds. The higher the volume, the less time it takes for damage to occur.

Here’s an example, if you like to listen to your headphones while mowing the lawn, the lawnmower noise generates 80-85 decibles of noise. To hear your music, you need to go approximately 20 decibles higher (to 100-105 decibles). At that level, hearing damage can occur in 8-15 minutes!

Do you spend a lot of time on headphones? Do you have people in your life that do? Well, short of turning the volume way down, here are three supplements to consider for being proactive about the longevity of your hearing. But first a little background…….

Acoustic overexposure (i.e. too much loud music/noise, etc.) causes the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS or free radicals) in the ear. These oxidative compounds are quite capable of inducing damage and loss of function when introduced into the cochlea (hearing area). Therefore, antioxidants that detoxify these free radicals, or agents and that increase blood flow may serve to protect or rescue hair cells from noise induced hearing loss. Here are the three antioxidants worth considering for hearing protection:

Vitamin E – In human trials, Seventy-nine percent of patients with sudden hearing loss treated with vitamin E had significant hearing gain, compared with just 45% of those in a control group. Laboratory studies show less destruction in the cochleae of vitamin E-treated animals than in controls, with associated improvements in hearing.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)- Several studies demonstrate powerful protection of hair cells and cochlear blood flow in animals treated with NAC , resulting in reduced permanent hearing loss, both prior to and following impulse noise. Human studies using 1,200 mg of NAC daily for two weeks in military recruits exposed to impulse noise at peak levels as high as 165 dB, and in civilian workers exposed to industrial noise at as high as 89 dB, have shown similar protection, with substantial reduction in hearing loss, especially in the higher frequencies where we perceive speech.
Alpha lipoic acid – a powerful and versatile antioxidant, lipoic acid has demonstrated benefit against the oxidant stress induced by impulse noise and blast injuries. Animals treated with lipoic acid display substantially lower levels of free radical molecules in their blood and cochlear areas, and their hearing is protected significantly compared to controls. Of note, AOR has a combined lipoic acid and NAC formula - a great combination to address hearing loss concerns.

In our “plugged-in” world where many of us escape the noises of urban society by slipping on our headphones, it’s nice to know there are things that may help keep our hearing intact for an extended period of time. That being said- TURN DOWN THE VOLUME.

Do you have hearing issues from headphones? Have you tried any of the above strategies? Do you have other tips or tricks to help with prevention? Let us know in the comments below!

Image by © 2014 Orlando Florin Rosu via DollarPhotoClub

Sources:

Hamman,M.et al. Mechanisms contributing to central excitability changes during hearing loss. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2012 May 22; 109 (21): 8292-7.
Kopke, R.D. et al. Enhancing Intrinsic Cochlear Stress Defense to Reduce Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. Laryngoscope; 112, 1515-1532.
Joachims HZ, Segal J, Golz A, Netzer A, Goldenberg D. Antioxidants in treatment of idiopathic sudden hearing loss. Otol Neurotol. 2003 Jul;24(4):572-5.
Hou FX, Wang S. Preventive effects of vitamin E on short-term noise-induced hearing loss in guinea pigs. Zhonghua Lao Dong Wei Sheng Zhi Ye Bing Za Zhi. 2005 Dec;23(6):408-10.
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Lin CY, Wu JL, Shih TS, et al. N-Acetyl-cysteine against noise-induced temporary threshold shift in male workers. Hear Res. 2010 Oct 1;269(1-2):42-7.
Lindblad AC, Rosenhall U, Olofsson A, Hagerman B. The efficacy of N-acetylcysteine to protect the human cochlea from subclinical hearing loss caused by impulse noise: A controlled trial. Noise Health. 2011 Nov-Dec;13(55):392-401.
Diao MF, Liu HY, Zhang YM, Gao WY. Changes in antioxidant capacity of the guinea pig exposed to noise and the protective effect of alpha-lipoic acid against acoustic trauma. Sheng Li Xue Bao. 2003 Dec 25;55(6):672-6.
Pouyatos B, Gearhart C, Nelson-Miller A, Fulton S, Fechter LD. Lipoic acid and 6-formylpterin reduce potentiation of noise-induced hearing loss by carbon monoxide: preliminary investigation. J Rehabil Res Dev. 2008;45(7):1053-64.
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