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Can Headphones be Harmful?


by Staff Writer Kiran Munir

The Danger of Headphones

Antonio Brooks walks to class listening to music through his headphones.
Photo by: Nicole Keller

Music has always affected the human race whether in times of grief, happiness, or anything that falls in the middle. Back in the day, devices were used to play music out loud for everyone present in the vicinity; however, with the development of cd players and more recently, iPods/mp3 players, a person is able to virtually listen to a piece of music without having the person sitting a foot away able to hear. Thanks to headphones and ear buds, a person can now listen to music of individual choice. There is a potential cost thought that occurs slowly but surely with this advancement.

Hearing is one of the five essential senses that enable a human to function completely. As a human being ages, hearing loss is normal to an extent, but using ear buds excessively may impair hearing ability more drastically. But before we talk about how the headphones can be potentially harmful, let us talk about the basic structure of the human ear.

The human ear is split into 3 parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the ear canal through which sound waves travel from the world to your inner ear. The waves vibrate the eardrum, which is in the middle ear. The eardrum passes these vibrations to the hammer, anvil, and then stirrup (the three tiny bones in your ear). From the stirrup, the vibrations are relayed to the inner ear. The stirrup taps a liquid filled sac from which vibrations travel to the cochlea. In the cochlea there are hundreds of specialized cells (hair) attached to fibers which transmit the intensity of the sound to the brain.

Now the real damage from headphones occurs to these hairs in the cochlea. When high sound passes through the hairs for an excessive amount of time, the hairs lose their ability to relay with correct intensity. Think of the hair in the cochlea as a carpet. When you walk over carpeting, your footprints leave small depressions. Luckily, simply vacuuming the carpet will allow the carpet to lose these depressions. On the contrary, if you leave heavy furniture on the carpet, the vacuum will do only so much in putting the carpet in its initial condition.

So after listening to loud music for so long, the sensitivity of the tiny hairs will decrease and make it difficult for one to hear softer sounds. It will still be possible to hear most sounds and have normal conversation; when the background noise gets louder though, having a side conversation will become difficult.

In conclusion, it is not that headphones and ear buds are damaging period. In fact, they are quite beneficial for listening to music, watching TV, and hearing lectures without bothering anyone else. However, they must be used moderately in both duration and intensity.

I love head phones because they allow me to do my homework and listen to music while in a public place. In fact, I am listening to music as I write this article in the basement of Krasa. Yet, I am always conscious of the volume and duration of time I spend listening to music. Just be careful with how you treat your body because anything used in excess is dangerous, and we unfortunately appreciate the blessings we have once something is taken away from us.