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Tinnitus Relief: Are Bone Conduction Headphones the Answer?

Tinnitus is a frustrating and potentially painful condition that a frighteningly large percentage of the population must live with daily. Though there are many causes of tinnitus, headphones are one of them. But what about bone conduction headphones? Will they worsen the effects, or can they potentially help those with tinnitus?

Bone conduction headphones may sometimes help lower tinnitus symptoms, but their effectiveness varies from person to person. A sound that bypasses the eardrums can potentially mask the ringing or buzzing noises, offering temporary relief, but some people may even experience physical pain.

There are various causes for tinnitus, and the type of tinnitus seems to determine what effect bone conduction headphones will have. Scientific studies are ongoing, but let’s compare the causes of tinnitus and the results that bone conduction headphones could have on the condition.

Can Bone Conduction Headphones Cause Tinnitus?

There is no scientific evidence that bone conduction headphones can directly cause tinnitus; the general consensus is that it’s unlikely. However, bone conduction may be a contributing factor.

Bone conduction headphones can cause hearing loss by damaging the sensitive hair cells in your cochlea (inner ear). That happens whenever you listen to music or any other audio at high volumes, which can also occur with bone conduction headphones because they feed the audio directly into the cochlea.

Listening to audio at high volumes frequently or for extended periods can damage your hearing, and hearing damage is one possible cause of tinnitus.

This could happen with any type of headphones, but what makes bone conduction headphones potentially more dangerous is that you usually don’t even notice the high volume because you still hear ambient noise. That’s why it seems like the volume is so low.

When listening to music over bone conduction headphones, plug your ears with your fingers. You will be surprised by how much louder the sound will be, and that’s the volume that’s constantly bombarding your inner ears, even if you don’t notice it.

This is more serious than many people think. Reddit user the_fae_prince tells how they bought a set of bone conduction headphones to listen to music while running. When they first put the headphones on, they noticed how low the volume was and decided to put them at full volume to be able to hear the music properly while running.

For two weeks, the Reddit user ran for one hour daily with bone conduction headphones at maximum volume. That’s when they started noticing headaches, sound sensitivity, and ringing in their ears. The headaches and ringing noises became more acute each day to the point where the user had to go to the ER.

The ER found that the user struggled with severe allergies, which caused a build-up of fluid in their inner ears. This was a cause for tinnitus in itself, but the use of bone conduction headphones at high volume increased the symptoms. Thankfully the reader was okay afterward and noticed the problem before it worsened.

So, even though the bone conduction headphones probably would not have caused immediate tinnitus if not for the allergies, this example shows that external factors can always increase the chances of something going wrong, and we don’t always know if those factors are present.

Learn More About: Can Bone Conduction Headphones Trigger Tinnitus?

How Bone Conduction Headphones Can Help With Tinnitus

Bone conduction headphones sometimes help people with tinnitus by offering relief from the ringing or buzzing noises. Many people who suffer from tinnitus say that listening to music at low volume using bone conduction headphones would effectively drown out the effects of the tinnitus, giving them a few hours of relief.

This is such a common practice among tinnitus sufferers that scientific studies are currently being conducted to see if bone conduction can further ease tinnitus symptoms. So far, the results are pretty positive for people with mild to moderate tinnitus, but further tests are required for severe cases.

A completely separate study found that ultra-high-frequency (UHF) sound between 10 and 26 kHz can be used to ease symptoms in cases of severely disabling tinnitus. Now the aim is to combine the findings of the two studies and see if those frequencies can be transmitted using bone conduction so that tinnitus may be effectively treated this way.

Can’t Normal Headphones Do The Same?

Regular headphones can theoretically do the same to provide comfort and relief to tinnitus sufferers. However, depending on the cause of the tinnitus and which organs were damaged (if the tinnitus was caused by hearing damage), they could make the condition worse rather than better, even if they were used at low volume.

The problem is that regular headphones have speakers positioned very close to the outer ear, ear canal, and eardrum. If there’s any physiological problem with these parts of the ear, headphones or earphones can cause immense pain, increase damage, and worsen tinnitus in the process.

Reasons Why Bone Conduction Headphones Might Not Help

From current scientific studies and experiences of various tinnitus sufferers, it’s clear that everyone doesn’t experience bone conduction headphones the same way. Their effectiveness in helping with tinnitus varies significantly from person to person. But there are a few facts and patterns that are noticeable:

  • Bone conduction headphones can help in mild and moderate tinnitus cases, but those with severe and debilitating tinnitus may not experience any relief from them whatsoever.
  • Users with hearing damage in their inner ear will almost certainly not gain anything from using bone conduction headphones since they transmit vibrations directly into the cochlea, which is most likely where the damage occurred. Chances are that listening to anything using bone conduction headphones will cause them immense pain.
  • Noise-canceling headphones may be more beneficial for some tinnitus sufferers than bone conduction headphones. Some types of tinnitus are exacerbated by external sound, while others are soothed by it. If bone conduction headphones don’t help, it might be worth trying noise-canceling headphones to remove external sounds entirely.
  • Bone conduction headphones won’t cure tinnitus. Not all types of tinnitus are treatable, but even the types that can be treated won’t improve because you are using bone conduction. The best that any headphones can do is improve the symptoms by soothing the ringing or buzzing noises.

In the end, you should consult a medical professional (preferably an ENT) to find out what’s causing your tinnitus and what would be the best way to treat it.

  • As with everything in life, the key is moderation. Whether you currently have tinnitus or not, use your headphones carefully. Don’t use them permanently, definitely don’t sleep with earbuds in, and keep the volume to a safe and moderate level.

Conclusion

There’s no “one size fits all” solution with tinnitus and bone conduction headphones. If you only have moderate or mild tinnitus, they may very well help to soothe the symptoms while you’re recovering. But if you have severe tinnitus or a serious ear problem, it’s best to ask your doctor before you decide even to try it. You never know what impact it could have on your hearing.