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Safe Listening: Evaluating the Safety of Bone Conduction Headphones

Bone conduction headphones are a popular emerging trend, especially among athletes. They offer numerous advantages, like retaining environmental awareness and being better for the health of your ears than regular earphones. But as with all relatively new technologies, we must ask ourselves: are bone conduction headphones safe?

Bone conduction headphones are generally safe to use. The technology has existed for centuries, and the medical field has been using bone conduction to make hearing aids for decades. In some ways, bone conduction headphones are safer to use than regular earphones, as long as you don’t overdo it.

It usually takes years or even decades to conclusively determine that a new technology has no harmful effects on humans and is truly safe to use. Bone conduction headphones have only been commercially available for a little over a decade, so it’s understandable that there will be some concern. Let’s look at how safe bone conduction headphones are and how to use them safely.

How Can We Know Bone Conduction Headphones Are Safe?

The world of science and engineering has an extensive testing process that these professionals use to test new technology before releasing it to the public. Some of the factors that these tests try to determine will include the following:

  • Do the devices emit harmful levels of radiation?
  • Are the effect of the devices (like the vibrations bone conduction creates in your skull) detrimental in any way?
  • What are the limits of their safe use? For example, how loud can bone conduction headphones go before they become harmful?
  • Are they effective enough to negate any potentially harmful effects they might have?

Based on the results of these tests, multiple peer reviews, and further tests by other experts, the scientific field will approve or disapprove of the use of a particular device.

After this, most countries have regulatory bodies that review these test results and legally allow their use in that country.

However, it could take decades to conclusively establish if a particular technology has any long-term harmful effects. So, what about bone conduction headphones? We haven’t had decades to test them yet. But there, we can use statistical data from the use of bone conduction technology in other fields, like the medical field, to help assess their safety.

The Use Of Bone Conduction Over The Centuries

The first recorded use of bone conduction was in the 1500s when renowned mathematician Gerolamo Cardano discovered that deaf people could hear music if he connected a musical instrument to a rod, which the deaf person would put between their teeth.

Ludwig Van Beethoven, the famous deaf composer, was known to use a form of bone conduction in the 1700s when he would bite down on his conductor’s staff and push it against the frame of his piano. This allowed him to use vibrations to hear his music, allowing him to compose some of his greatest masterpieces.

Bone Conduction In The Medical Field

In 1879, inventor Richard Rhodes patented a device he called the Audiphone, a simple fan-like device that used bone conduction technology to help people with hearing problems.

The Audiphone eventually led to the invention of bone conduction hearing aids in the early 1900s, after which the first models were implanted in the 1970s and became commercially available in the 1980s.

Many medical studies have been conducted over the decades, all of which determined that bone conduction technology was not only safe but also an effective way to treat various hearing problems.

Since modern bone conduction headphones use the same technology at their core, medical studies and decades of test results prove that bone conduction headphones are generally safe if you follow a few basic guidelines.

How To Use Your Bone Conduction Headphones Safely

Even though bone conduction headphones are generally safe, we must use them within specific parameters to ensure that we use them safely.

Bone Conduction Headphones Can Still Cause Hearing Loss

The assumption that you can listen to music over bone conduction headphones at any volume you wish without damaging your hearing is false. Some marketing materials may even sound like that is one of their selling points, but you should still be careful.

Bone conduction headphones bypass your eardrums and outer ears, but the organs there are not the only ones at risk when you listen to music at high volumes. The real threat of high-volume headphones is to your cochlea, and since bone conduction simply uses another way to access your cochlea directly, you can still damage your hearing.

Don’t Assume That Environmental Awareness Is Perfect

Perhaps the most significant advantage of bone conduction headphones is that they leave your ears open so that you can remain aware of your environment. That’s also why these headphones are so popular with athletes, and they are the only headphones allowed in many road marathons.

However, your brain is still limited to how much sound it can process at any given time. Listening to music at high volume can still drown out ambient noise, drastically reducing your environmental awareness.

Bone Conduction Can Cause Skin Irritation

The vibrations of bone conduction headphones against your skin can irritate some people and, in extreme cases, cause a rash. The risk increases as your headphones get tighter, which is essential since a tighter fit also improves the sound quality and volume.

Find a pair of bone conduction headphones that sit comfortably, or adjust your headphones to fit without irritating your skin at all.

Clean Your Headphones Regularly

Infection caused by bacterial growth is a significant problem with regular earphones and headphones, though this doesn’t affect bone conduction headphones too much since they don’t go into your ears. However, cleaning your headphones often is essential since sweat, skin grease, and other grime can still stick to them.

This grime is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, some of which can increase the skin irritation factor and even cause severe infections in your skin.

If They Adversely Affect You, Stop Using Them

Bone conduction can have different adverse effects on people with symptoms similar to those of motion sickness, such as nausea, dizziness, and disorientation. It’s caused by the vibrations in your skull. If you notice any such symptoms, you can try to adjust the headphones to see if it gets better, but if not, it’s best to stop using your bone conduction headphones.

Conclusion

Bone conduction headphones are generally safe to use. The technology behind them has been used in the medical field for over a century, so it’s tested and proven. But you must remember to use them wisely since not all the claims made by misinformed marketing people are valid. They can still damage your hearing and negatively impact your health if you misuse them.