The Hidden Danger Of Wearing Your Headphones For Too Long

Whether you're in the gym, working, or running errands, everything feels better when you're doing it to music, right? Headphones allow you to take your personal soundtrack just about anywhere. But what are the hidden dangers of wearing your headphones for too long? Harvard Medical School has highlighted that headphones can impact your hearing if you listen for too long or too loud. But knowing how long is too long can be tough.

The World Health Organization estimates that around 1 billion young people around the world could be at risk of hearing loss because of unsafe listening habits with earphones. The NHS lists taking "care when listening to music" as a key way to prevent hearing loss. It recommends not listening to music at more than 60 percent of the maximum volume and not using earphones or headphones for more than an hour at a time. A five-minute break every half-hour is the recommended minimum.

No matter where you are, it seems like everyone is listening to their headphones all the time. But as Healthy Hearing notes, noise exposure as one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Here are the hidden dangers of wearing your headphones for too long.

Wearing headphones for too long can affect your hearing

It's more than likely that if you enjoy listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, you've been warned of the dangers that targeted loud noise can have on your ears. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that increased use of earphones has led to a major increase in the prevalence of hearing loss in adolescents and young adults.

Columbia Asia outlines that when you're listening to a loud sound, your eardrum vibrates, and the vibration travels to the cochlea, a chamber filled with fluid and small hairs. The louder the sound, the stronger the vibrations. If you continue to listen to music that's too loud, the hair cells lose their sensitivity and may not recover. This can lead to hearing damage. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection outlines that most headphones, when switched to full volume, are about 105 to 110 decibels. You can start to get ear damage from around 85 decibels. You should listen to your headphones at about 60 percent of their volume.

If you're listening to your headphones for background noise, it can be hard to know when to take a break. Hearing damage is gradual, so it's not glaringly obvious when to switch off. Healthy Hearing suggests that over-the-ear headphones are better for you than in-ear buds, as they put more distance between your inner ear and the sound.

Dementia and dizziness are other dangers

A study conducted by Frank Lin, M.D., Ph. D — an expert at Johns Hopkins – found that mild hearing loss doubled your dementia risk. Doctors observed 639 adults for nearly 12 years and found that moderate loss of hearing tripled the risk, and people who had severely impaired hearing were five times more likely to receive a dementia diagnosis.

The 2020 Lancet Commission report on dementia prevention, intervention, and care highlighted 12 different lifestyle risks associated with dementia which run from childhood to later life. It argued that minimizing your exposure to these risks could delay or prevent 40 percent of dementia cases. The biggest risk in early life is hearing loss.

Dr. Ana H. Kim, director of otologic research in the department of otolaryngology-head & neck surgery at Columbia University Herbert and Florence Irving Medical Center in New York City, told Healthline, "prolonged dysregulation of this relationship is thought to result in dementia. Deterioration of the peripheral hearing apparatus over time decreases input to the primary hearing centers of the brain. This then creates a vicious cycle of declining hearing capacity, worsening executive function, and increasing risk of dementia."

However, you may notice other side effects of wearing headphones for an extended period of time. Scientific research published in the Hearing Journal looked into how sound and pressure can induce vertigo, the feeling that you and everything around you is spinning. 

Skin problems can also result from wearing headphones too long

"Wearing over-the-ear headphones is a perfect setup for causing an increase of acne breakouts and skin infections," Dr. Debra Luftman tells Teen Vogue. "This is especially the case when you wear them during and after a workout, or if you keep them on for long periods of time." The reason you can experience skin problems is due to the increased bacteria growth on the headphones from the sweat and moisture.

And while acne on your face is bad enough, how about blackheads in your ear? An episode of The Doctors (per Goodfullness) provided startling — and disgusting — evidence of what can happen when a person wears headphones too long. "In this case, it was the constant use of earbuds and they served to push the dirt deeper into the follicles." The best way to avoid suffering a similar fate is to not wear "earbuds for extended periods of time" and make sure to clean them regularly.