AirPods, Hearing Loss, and Ear Infections

The American Osteopathic Association estimates that 20% of today’s teens will face hearing loss attributable to AirPods. Younger kids who use AirPods are likely to end up with painful ear infections as well. 

It’s not just AirPods — and it’s not just kids. Frequent use of earbuds, regardless of brand, closes off the ear canal. Ears are naturally self-cleaning, but closing up the ear prevents the natural process from taking place. 

Instead, the ear canal becomes a moist, warm, enclosed space. That’s the perfect environment for developing infections. Doctors are seeing chronic or frequent ear infections in adults and teens as well, but children have smaller ear canals, so the risk is greater. 

Add excessive volume to frequent or chronic ear infections, and hearing is threatened.

Impacted ear wax is another common side effect of excessive use of earbuds, and that, too, can affect hearing.

Safe earbud use

First, limit the amount of time kids spend with earbuds in place. Some kids have earbuds in their ears for most of their waking hours outside of school. That’s too much, from the point of view of hearing or infections.

Wearing earbuds for several hours a day may also lead to less time interacting with others, less physical activity, and less time in nature. 

60 minutes is a good daily limit. Many doctors suggest a 60/60 rule — 60 minutes, at 60% of the maximum volume. 

Second, make sure the earbuds are clean. Ideally, clean them after every use. At a minimum, clean earbuds with alcohol once a week. 

Don’t allow kids to share earbuds with friends or family members. 

Headphones instead?

Consider switching kids to headphones. This could be a hard sell for teens, though the Wall Street Journal reports that headphones are making a comeback. 

Headphones are less of a health risk than earbuds. They should still be kept to a reasonable level of volume to avoid damaging hearing, but earbuds are more likely to lead to infections. They also bring the source of the sound much closer, increasing the relative decibel level.

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