Are headphones bad for your brain?

In the following article we will answer the question ‘’Are headphones bad for your brain?’’ We will talk about headphones and brain stimulation and discover if loud music damages the brain nerves, how this affects different ages, whether or not to use hearing aids and what precautions to have to avoid damage from loud sound. 

Are headphones bad for your brain?

Yes, headphones can be bad for your brain. High decibel noise levels strip insulation from nerve fibers that carry signals from the ear to the brain as well as causing ear infections.

If the ear stops working properly, the brain stops receiving the electrical stimuli necessary to be able to interpret them and make hearing possible.

If this situation persists for a long time, the brain “forgets” how it should work. If this happens, that is, if the hearing aids are fitted after several years with hearing loss, even if hearing stimuli start to reach the brain again, the brain will not know what to do with them. The person must teach their brain to listen.

To prevent this from happening, it is important to keep a continuous watch to detect the first symptoms of hearing loss. In this sense, periodic reviews can help us to realize this. Stopping hearing loss as soon as possible through the use of hearing aids will help us keep our hearing without complications.

Loud music damages the brain nerves

Listening to loud music through headphones has the same effect on the nerves in the brain as multiple sclerosis and can lead to hearing loss.

Listening to loud music through headphones can cause hearing loss, due to an effect similar to that which occurs on the nerves of the brain in multiple sclerosis, a study has found. 

The study shows that noise levels above 110 dB destroy the insulating layer of nerve fibers that transmit signals from the ear to the brain. Loss of this protective layer, called myelin, disrupts neural electrical impulses.

This same process occurs in multiple sclerosis, in this case as a consequence of the attack of the immune system itself, which produces the gradual deterioration of brain neurons.

It is a fact that being exposed to loud noises can cause hearing problems such as temporary hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and even permanent hearing loss. However, this is the first time that scientists have been able to identify the damage that occurs in the neuronal cell as a result of exposure to noise.

“The study allows us to understand and sequence the process from loud noise exposure to hearing loss. Carefully analyzing the cellular mechanism underlying this condition would be a significant advance in improving medical care for a large part of the population. 

This analysis will serve both to prevent and to advance the process of finding suitable cures for hearing loss,” explains Dr Martine Hamann, lead researcher on the study from the University of Leicester, UK.

Hearing can recover

The scientists found that when myelin loss occurred as a result of exposure to noise, it would regenerate over time, indicating that hearing may recover.

The study is part of an ongoing investigation into the effects of loud noises on the cochlear nucleus, which is the part of the brain stem that receives sound signals from the inner ear. 

Based on these results, researchers may develop treatment methods in the future.

Risks of listening to loud music

Who has not ever heard that listening to music at an excessive volume can cause serious health problems? Few people are truly aware of the danger of noise. 

When it is not very strong, it can affect us slightly by altering blood pressure, digestion or even causing stress, due to the fact that the hours of sleep are reduced.

 However, when that noise becomes very loud and long-lasting, it impairs hearing, producing hearing loss or deafness. Many times, and as a consequence of adults, children are especially affected, altering their development.

Inside the ear we have cells called hairs that together form the auditory nerve. These collect the vibrations produced by sounds and transmit electrical signals to the brain, which is responsible for analyzing them and identifying the type of sound we are hearing.

The problem comes when, due to exposure to a loud noise, the brain is not able to identify that sound.

Thus, people who are used to listening to very loud music, who constantly go to places where noise is high such as discos or concerts, are exposed to the risk of premature hearing damage. It is important to note that the effects of noise are cumulative and will be seen in the long term.

In this sense, hearing health should not go unnoticed, if it is taken into account that this sense is essential for human activities. Depending on one age or another, this loud noise affects in one way or another:

Fetuses and Babies

During pregnancy, exposure to loud noise can increase the risk of hearing problems and other health problems for the baby. Although we cannot hear him, he is doing it from within. And not only our voice, if not all kinds of sounds. 

The inner ear anatomically develops very early, even before the middle and outer ear. Around week 24/25, the cochlea and nerve endings are fully formed, so it is from the next two weeks when the fetus already has a perfect and continuous hearing.

This means that you have to take care of the baby’s hearing even from the womb, and not expose him to sounds above 100 decibels, since even if it is protected by the belly 30 percent, a prolonged exposure to noise can affect its auditory system causing hearing loss, as well as modifying the brain to the point of influencing the interpretation of speech, causing increasing difficulty in distinguishing speech sounds.

It can also increase the chances that a mother will deliver prematurely and have a low-birth-weight baby.

Children

Children are very vulnerable to very loud sounds because they are not able to control them, nor do they know the risks they have. It has been shown that loud noises or music can affect the growth of children, as well as damage memory and make learning difficult. 

This loud and prolonged sound can lead to hearing loss, which will lead to poor development. The brain records the information that reaches it through the auditory canal, but if it is damaged, it will not receive information, so it will make language and understanding difficult.

In addition to directly affecting their health, noise prevents communication through speech, thus preventing them from understanding new words, hindering their learning. Likewise, it also interferes with concentration and memory.

Headphones, yes or no?

The noises that would most negatively affect children are those found in their environment, that is, those at home, school, as well as those in the environment that surrounds them. 

You have to favor a quiet environment around the child, avoid yelling at home or at school, and live in areas that are not very noisy.

Another very controversial factor that damages children’s hearing is headphones. It is becoming more and more common to see children of early ages use this instrument to listen to music or to play. 

Clavería points out that “its use is not recommended, since they are not aware of the damage it is causing them. They don’t have enough capacity to raise and lower the volume properly ”. The specialist points out that those children who are mature enough to do so should use them.

Claveria emphasizes on the contrary, that the use of protective helmets in concerts is recommended, since it lowers the intensity of the volume and makes it not so harmful.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) establishes that children should not be exposed to sounds above 85 decibels, since above it can cause hearing loss.

Youth and adults

It is estimated that approximately 30 percent of the inhabitants of the European Union are exposed to daily noise above 55 decibels. 

The main problem with this is the lack of awareness in young people about the problems that they can cause in their health. 

There is increasing evidence that noise exposure creates disturbances at many levels. 

Today, the hearing we will have when we are older is known, traditionally known as presbycusis, and that not only depends on age, but also on genetic factors, diet, the use of medications and, above all, on the exposure to noise throughout our lives.

Therefore, it is important that young people are aware of the excessive noise to which they are exposed now.

In this way, specialists warn of the dangers of raising the volume of music when listening through headphones, and the problem is not in the latter, if not in the way we use them. 

There are several types of headphones, the most common are those that are inserted into the ear, being also the most dangerous. This type does not isolate the person from external noise, so the volume tends to be turned up. 

In case of using some they should be the largest headphones (earphones) protect the ear from external noise and, in general, allow listening to music at a lower volume. The use of headphones is not negative by itself. It depends on the number of hours of use and above all on the intensity..

WHO estimates that 1.1 billion young people around the world may be at risk of hearing loss due to harmful listening practices. And that more than 43 million people between the ages of 12 and 35 have a disabling hearing loss.

How noise affects people who work with it

Many leisure activities enjoyed by young people and adults today are often exposed to very loud noise for a long time. In discos, pubs and concerts the recommended 85 decibels are exceeded. 

The music that booms incessantly until the wee hours of the morning, which becomes a damage to the hearing and to the people who work there. There are numerous examples of musicians currently in their 60s or 70s, now suffering from the effects of exposure to loud noise from years ago. 

Eric Clapton; Pete Townsend of The Who; or even the same leader of the rock group ACDC, Brian Johnson, who had to give his place to Axl Rose, from Guns and Roses to sing on the group’s last tour, due to deafness.

Preventive measures

For all these reasons, noise is one more form of environmental pollution, currently on a par with air or water pollution. And as with everything, society is the main responsible, and the only one that has the key to make the determination to reverse it.

Clavería points out that the first thing to do to improve this situation is to make the population aware of the problem, informing them about the prejudices and dangers that noise has. 

Another important point is to take action on an individual level with the use of headphones; comply with current regulations, and if necessary, create new ones to curb this circumstance.

FAQS: Are headphones bad for your brain?

Do headphones kill brain cells?

Turning the volume up too high on your headphones can damage the coating of nerve cells, leading to temporary deafness, scientists have shown.

Is it bad to wear headphones all day?

Headphones that go over your ears can also damage your hearing if you use them too long or play music too loudly. They’re just not as much of a risk as earbuds are: Having the source of the sound in your ear canal can increase a sound’s volume by 6 to 9 decibels — enough to cause some serious problems.

Can wireless headphones damage your brain?

Some experts predict that even at lower SAR levels, prolonged, chronic use of our wireless devices could very well add up over time and hurt our health. “If one uses the AirPods many hours a day, the cumulative exposure to the brain from this microwave radiation could be substantial,” Moskowitz stated on his website.

How long is it safe to wear headphones?

Audiologists advise that you shouldn’t turn that volume up more than 60% of the maximum volume when you’re using headphones. And you shouldn’t listen for more than 60 minutes per day. The louder the sound, the shorter you should listen.

Can headphones cause brain tumors?

At this time, there’s no evidence that using Apple AirPods or other wireless headphones increases your risk of brain cancer. Bluetooth earbuds produce less radiation than cell phones.

In this article we answered the question ‘’Are headphones bad for your brain?’’ We talked about headphones and brain stimulation and discovered if loud music damages the brain nerves, how this affects different ages, whether or not to use hearing aids and what precautions to have to avoid damage from loud sound. 

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!

References:

Ferguson, A., McConathy,J., Su, Y., Hewing, D, and  Laforest, R

Attenuation Effects of MR Headphones During Brain PET/MR Studies.Journal of Nuclear Medicine Technology June 2014, 42 (2) 93-100; DOI: https://doi.org/10.2967/jnmt.113.131995

Tsivian, M., Qi P., Kimura, M., Chen, V., Chen, S.,  Gan, T and Polascik, T.The Effect of Noise-cancelling Headphones or Music on Pain Perception and Anxiety in Men Undergoing Transrectal Prostate Biopsy,Urology,Volume 79, Issue 1,2012,Pages 32-36,ISSN 0090-4295,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.urology.2011.09.037.

Tellmann, L., Herzog, H., Boers, F. et al. Alternative headphones for patient noise protection and communication in PET-MR studies of the brain. EJNMMI Res 8, 106 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13550-018-0457-6

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