Am I damaging my hearing?
July 29, 2006 5:51 PM   Subscribe

Often when listening to music or a film on my in-ear (ipod) headphones I fold my ears forward and hold them. Is this damaging my hearing?

I fold my ear forward so it more or less seals over the headphone and I hold it there. Music sounds incredible, it goes from the equivalent of listening inside an empty soup tin to a 30,000 seater arena inside my skull. The bass is massive but I can still hear the treble and there is no manual increase in volume. Could I be damaging my hearing? Volume isn't excessive, I just wonder about the bass which is pretty extreme and right inside my head. The difference between the tinny normal headphone usage and the massive bass is disconcertingly large. I'm not sure if it's just an aural illusion or if I am amplifying some frequency and creating a problem for the future here, because it feels like that.
posted by oxala to Health & Fitness (6 answers total)
I don't think the physical effect of holding the earpiece that way will cause any damage* but it can be damaging if it's too loud. People do sell headphones that sound much better without the need to hold them in (they work the same way ear-plugs do: with expanding gel that holds the bud in place)

Just make sure that the sound is at a comfortable level. Turn it down a little if you're worried.

*although some people have been saying the buds themselves are bad for hearing, I still don't think holding them deeper in will damage your hearing too much.

I'm not a doctor or anything.
posted by delmoi at 6:11 PM on July 29, 2006

What will damage your hearing is excessive activity of the eardrums.

Holding your ears to block outside sounds from getting into your head is not going to be the cause of hearing loss.

Furthermore, neither are earbuds. The problem is people's usage of earbuds: They're not meant for public places where there is lots of outside noise, so what happens is people turn them up to compensate for the sounds of the street, the bus, conversations, etc so they can hear their music over that stuff. The volume they have to turn it up to doesn't seem loud to you at the time because you're just trying to hear it over other stuff, but it is loud, and it can damage hearing.

What I would recommend for you is that you ditch the earbuds and get either full-cover headphones, or "in-ear" buds that reduce outside noise by having a rubber fitting that plugs your ear semi-shut. A widely loved example of this is the Shure line (the e3c's come to mind). The entire point of these is to achieve exactly what you're doing by covering your ear -- creating a bit of a seal so that the sound gets to your ears uninterrupted and cleanly.
posted by twiggy at 6:44 PM on July 29, 2006

Related, but not even remotely close to an answer: I sometimes plug my ears at concerts for a minute or two, and the music sounds SO MUCH BETTER, if a bit quieter. I've never worn earplugs at a concert (I know, I should), so I have no idea if earplugs create the same effect.

As for your question, I would think as long as the music isn't loud, I wouldn't worry about it. If anything, you're blocking out excess noise by doing this.
posted by AlisonM at 6:55 PM on July 29, 2006

Get custom ear canal inserts for both A) attenuating concert sound levels and B) hifi headphone use. The names Westone and Etymotic come to mind ... do some Googling. They're not cheap, and you have to visit an audiologist (possibly twice) to get the ear molds done, but the results are outstanding. I've been using custom ear plugs (with 15 dB attenuation) for 20 years. If I used headphones a lot I probably would do that for them too.
posted by intermod at 7:52 PM on July 29, 2006

Koss "Plugs". $12 bucks, almost perfect.
posted by orthogonality at 11:58 PM on July 29, 2006

You could "damage" your earlobe, if you do this enough.

I know someone who, when she was a child, thought it would be interesting to sleep with her ear folded over and and kept that way by the weight of her head on the pillow. She kept doing this for a very long time, and now, many years later, her ears now permanently stick out at a right angle to her head.

Seriously, as crazy as it sounds, I'm not making this up. But so long as you listen in moderation, I doubt this will happen to you.
posted by darkness at 3:59 AM on July 30, 2006

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