Researchers at Harvard Medical School’s Eaton Peabody Laboratory learned you can lose up to 90 percent of your cochlear nerve fibers from frequent earbud use.
Now hear this: Earbud headphones, even at low volume, may be causing permanent damage to your hearing.
For decades, scientists have looked, almost exclusively, at the loss of hair cells as an indicator of hearing loss. But a study released by the Acoustical Society of America reports a “hidden hearing loss,” shedding new light on hearing protection.
Sound waves travel through the middle ear into the cochlea of the inner ear, where they stimulate hair cells. The organ of Corti, inside the cochlea, transforms the physical motion of the hair cells into electronic pulses for the brain. It’s here the discovery was made.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School’s Eaton Peabody Laboratory learned you can lose up to 90 percent of your cochlear nerve fibers — without losing the ability to detect a tone in quiet. But once background noise is introduced, hearing ability drops dramatically. So, hair cells may be completely intact but hearing still lost if the nerve synapses are damaged.
Earbud headphones deliver stronger, more damaging waves straight to the cochlea — even at lower volumes. And without a known treatment for cochlear nerve damage, researchers strongly recommend exercising caution.
“(A nerve fiber) will never reconnect,” said Charles Liberman, director of the Eaton Peabody Lab, in the study. “It no longer responds to sound, and, within a few months or years, the rest of the neuron will disappear.”
To help slow hearing impairment, try over-the-ear headphones instead. They provide a more natural delivery of sound, softening the blow to the inner ear. Experts also suggest following the 60/60 rule: No more than 60% volume for no more than 60 minutes.
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