A recent article by Tina Sieber (Sound Guys, 2021) reports on headphones and the relationship they may have with tinnitus. She states in the beginning of her article that both wireless headphones and earbuds are harmless when used responsibly. What can give rise to tinnitus, however, is hearing loss.
The problem with headphones is that people tend to listen at high volumes. When you exceed safe listening levels for too long, your hearing will suffer. And tinnitus happens to be a common side effect of hearing loss.
We as audiologists know that Bluetooth and noise-cancelling features in headphones or earbuds are not to blame for tinnitus. Unfortunately, we are also aware that headphones and earbuds are often not used responsibly.
When you turn up the volume on your headphones, you can reach levels of over 115dB(SPL), which is equivalent to a rock concert. At that volume, hearing loss happens within minutes. If you care about your hearing and want to avoid tinnitus, you should limit the volume and your listening time.
A rule of thumb is to stay at or below 70% volume when using over-ear headphones. With in-ear headphones (aka earbuds), 60% volume is recommended. You can also use mobile apps or settings on your phone to control the maximum volume. If you’re in the market for new headphones, consider volume-limited headphones, which typically max out at 85dB(SPL).
Interestingly, noise-cancelling headphones may actually help with tinnitus, in an indirect manner. By attenuating ambient noise, a user can listen with headphones or earbuds at a lower volume level, which can reduce the chance of obtaining or worsening hearing loss – and protect you from developing tinnitus.
To summarize, no, headphones and earbuds do not cause tinnitus; however, using them inappropriately can definitely increase your chances of noise-induced hearing loss, which in turn can increase your likelihood of developing tinnitus.
Finally, if you already suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus, consider getting a hearing aid. Hearing aids can slow down the progression of hearing loss and the mental decline associated with it. Hearing aids can also help with tinnitus. If you would like to learn more about how you would benefit from hearing aids, please contact us at the Hearing Institute of Ontario at 1-888-664-2999.