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In-ear phones dangerous? - Page 2

post #16 of 45
im getting some "real" headphones, cuz my ears dont really like the ex71s (not quite the same as etys, but anyway). This is partly because sometimes the bud gets janked out and i doupt this is good for the ear, and also, because its too much of a pain to keep the tips clean. more of a warning now: there is a certain fatigue that comes from wearing earbuds/canal phones for a long time, i guess some people just get used to it. they isolate nicely, but thats about it for the 71s...

post #17 of 45
The eartips used with the ER-4 are all based on earplugs. They have had extensive skin testing for the materials.

What did the doctor have to say about hearing aids or earplugs. There are a few million people who wear hearing aids every day without problems.

Many people have to wear earplugs every day for environmental noise at work.

Don Wilson
Etymotic Research
post #18 of 45
Not sure whether you are asking me what the doctor said about hearing aids - I am assuming you are as I am the only person who mentioned seeing a doctor. However, that was not because I was using the Etys, more so because I got an infection after some compressed wax in the ear.

I still use my Etys, and my advice still stands regarding cleanliness of the tips and ears. This advice is also important for hearing aid wearers. I am sure you have tested the Etys to ensure they do not cause any skin irritation. i think most people suffer because they put something in their ear and it either rubs a bit or the cannot keep from moving it about, trying to get that seal.

I love my Etys, hence my desire to now get a 4s cable and headphone amp for home use. Sorry if I was giving the impression that I was not pleased with them.

post #19 of 45

I was directing the question to the originator who went to the doctor, and had a girlfried that was a med student.

I have seen some earphones come back with eartips that looked like they hadn't been changed or cleaned in years. If you use the same dringking glass without washing it you are bound to eventually have some problems.

Don Wilson
Etymotic Research
post #20 of 45


I think that cleaning the tips is a very good idea, but would caution anyone using the sanitizer that has a high alcohol content to let the alcohol volatilize for a short while, before inserting it into your ear. Continuous exposure of your eardrum to the alcohol cannot be good for it. It sanitizes because it is lethel to microbes. It is also used as a preservative for museum specimens and is less toxic than formaldehyde, but still I would not expose my eardrums to alcohol every day.
post #21 of 45
I don't think alcohol comes into contact with your actual ear drums.

I also am under the inclination that the amount of alcohol "residue" that is used to normally wash your hands in this product is probably no more "toxic" than the amount of alcohol you will consume orally in cough syrup or a glass of wine if not less.

I don't think the comparison between alcohol and formaldehyde means much just because they are both used as preservative agents. There are alcoholic beverages (of which no one really knows how early they originated but speculation goes to prehistory) but no formaldehydic ones. There were times and places where people drank more alcohol than water (in respect to beverage type, not alcohol proof) because alcohol was a natural anti-septic and the water supply wasn't safe without it(i.e. alcoholic beverage was safer to drink than plain water).

I was also under the impression that besides direct injection, suppositories, or snorting...oral consumption is probably still a more effective means to get some substance into your system rather than by ear. Otherwise I'd assume we'd probably see ear junkies by now.

Of course substance abuse and DUI is another topic entirely.

As far as Ety's, I have no issues with them as a long time user. But I don't think I've ever had an ear infection in my life with or without em so YMMV. People do seek second opinions for a reason. What is true for one person might not be true for another. I am sure there are doctors that strongly suggest circumcision as a matter of cleanliness as well. But isn't that saying, "here let me cut some of it off because it its just too annoying to keep it clean otherwise" (there are other documented rationales that are much more humorous to read).

BTW I'm not discounting any good advice, practice, or precautions here, just adding my whimsical thoughts on the matter.
post #22 of 45
I want to follow up on my experience with canal phones over the past three days and their effect on my tinitus:

Because I enjoy portable audio at work, I bought Shure E2 canal phones in the hope that I could use them at a lower volume level due to their isolating nature.

SPL Level Question:
My first question was whether the advantage of the lower volume levels needed to drive canal phones is balanced out by their sealing the ear. The answer, simply enough, was stated in the instruction manual that comes with the E2s -- on their hearing protection Warning Page. Their literature states that SPL are directly related to the quality of the seal. Thus, although your amp - my iPod in this instance - may be driven at a lower volume to achieve the sound level you want, the relative sound pressure levels, due to the canal phone seal, are equivalent to driving your player to a higher level with a non-sealing headphone.

Therefore, I think it's something of a misnomer to say you will be listening at lower volume levels by using an isolating canal phone.

My experience with Tinitus and canal phones:
When using regular "open" headphones such as Sennheiser HD600s I can listen to music at low levels for perhaps 2-3 hours without my tinutus being exacerbated. When using regular "earbuds", namely the earbuds which came with my I pod I can listen for 4-5 hours without my tinitus worsening. Of course, this is not really "full range" sound, with the design and ill fit of most earbuds providing limited low frequency response. Unfortunately, I've recently learned that less than two hours with canal phones worsens my tinitus. This is with the very snug seal that many people strive for to improve bass response., eg wetting them before insertion and modifications. I modded the Shure E2s myself. I used the soft silicone tips from Sony EX70 earbuds on the Shure E2s to improve their seal, per Brokhen's mod. The result was excellent sound with a warmer midrange and improved low frequency response. Sadly, the result was an aggravation of my tinitus, more so than with regular earbuds or open headphones.

I want to clearly state that using the Shure E2s with the foam plugs and their silicon plugs allowed me to listen to them for 4-5 hours without worsening my tinitus - this, of course, was at the expense of low frequency response. Their bass response using them this way, to return to my finicky audiophile ways for the moment and forget being a researcher, being what I would call very unsatisfying. I also want to say that, using the modified E2, I do not believe that I ever pushed their limits to "excessive" bass, but rather to a natural satisfying level.

The Reason
I've come to believe that bass impact and their subsequent SPLs seems to worsen my tintus more so than treble response. As bright equipment is so noticeably unpleasant to listen to, I had always assumed it was the treble causing my tinitus to flair up, but I now suspect it is the SPL of low frequencies, or bass impact, which aggravates my tinitus. I cannot state that this is the same case with all tinitus suffers.

But it is my initial observation that the bass impact created by in-ear or "canal phones" is more aggravating to tinitus than the impact of "open" phones - even when the open phones are providing a what I would consider a satisfying level of bass performance.

So, anyway, these are my personal findings. I hope they help others who may be experiencing similar problems. And if anyone can support my experiences with the aggravation of tinitus and the effect of low frequency impact, I'd appreciate their input. It might help me to find the best equipment to continue my love of headphone listening.
post #23 of 45
I also think this is because feeling bass through bone conduction through the body or even head is much safer than trying to emulate this all through the ear canal. IMO, the Etymotics don't even bother with this, and forgo almost all visceral bass impact. They don't try to sound like something they are not, and don't boost bass artificially while still providing the deepest bass purely audibly. If the lack of visceral impact bothers you it pretty much then comes down to your taste and self control.

Also bass is naturally more pleasant to listen to than high treble at higher dbs. You don't see cars with amped up tweeters blasting away on the streets. Regardless I have my doubts that any of those car audio bass lovers come out with their hearing perfectly intact. Higher frequencies are naturally more irritating to listen to especially at higher spls.

IMO the ideal listening comes from having the phones that provide something satisfying at the lowest SPL's. But what is satisfying to one person will not satisfy another. I am satisfied that the Ety's don't even bother to emulate speaker-like bass and produce bass *their* way. IMO like any other consumption abuse issue, sometimes you can't let your tastes override your self-control unless you are ready for the consequences.

Also with isolating phones...if you do have tinnitus you will be constantly reminded of it during quiet passages or no music since it blocks out environmental noise which could serve as distraction.
post #24 of 45
I used my Etys for the first time last night in my very noisy work environment. Every time I took them out to talk to someone, the ambient noise of the exhaust fans seemed nearly deafening compared to the music I was listening to. In my case, I am starting to think that listening to music is probably safer than leaving the canalphones behind.

I think it's safe to assume that I listen to music at least -3dB measured at my eardrums from other open cans (It's probably more like -15dB->-20dB). This is probably their intended use, though they do make an extremely efficient way to blow out your eardrums if you choose to do so.

EDIT: one more thing, if the deep bass is the same perceived sound level as the midrange, the SPL is definitely going to be higher by a lot. Take a look at the response curve for a human ear below 250 Hz sometime.
post #25 of 45
Just my two cents: I am a physician and a long time etymotic user. I have had no problems, and I have to tell you that it has been my impression that there is no danger to one's hearing inherent in the fact that etymotic are canalphones. The dangers as I understand them have been well-delineated by others here: listening too loud being the main culprit. It's a shame for the poor guy who wound up waxing his tympanic membrane and getting some tinnitus. Hopefully that will resolve.

At any rate, reasonably conscientious practice with etymotics--just as with anything else you would introduce into the crevices of your body (you dirty-minded headphoners)--seems to be a fairly safe practice as far as I can see. That said, people who already suffer from hearing damage and/or difficulties should be extra careful about using headphones at all, as pressure-related influences can worsen pre-existing conditions just as much as sound-related influences (as well described by chadbang).

And by the way, salt is also a preservative, and we eat that (I don't, however, put it in my ears). And iodine is an antiseptic, but it's also in salt. Just because something has a purpose shared with something else doesn't mean that both things are the same. That said, I would not put alcohol in my ears everyday either. As I remember, alcohol is pretty volatile (as noted) and has an astringent-like quality (drying an somewhat caustic). It is likely to dissolve earwax but also to create a rather irritating environment for your poor ears.

As a disclaimer, I am not stating that you will not have ear trouble with etymotics, and I what I describe is my opinion only--it is not intended as a treatment recommendation or official safety hallmark.
post #26 of 45
Originally posted by dgs
It's a shame for the poor guy who wound up waxing his tympanic membrane and getting some tinnitus. Hopefully that will resolve.
Me too! I hope it is a temporary condition caused by the alignment of various factors, of which I am certain the Etys are not included.
post #27 of 45
I find when flying, my Ety's make equalizing pressure inside my ears a little more difficult. But I can equalize my ear pressure pretty easily anyways.

But with how loud airplanes can be, I use the Ety's even when I don't play any music through them. Granted, falling asleep with them in can be painful if you lean your head to the side, as they can jab your ear a bit. But they never would go deep enough to cause real damage, though.

I do find I listen at much lower levels when I use my Ety's too. That is the biggest plus to these ear phones.
post #28 of 45
Originally posted by chadbang
I have tinitus and this is exactly the reason why I just bought some canal phones. I thought isolation would allow me to use lower levels. Currently I am running my iPod at 25% of it's volume according to it's meter. When using regular earbuds I would have the volume at just under a 50%. My question would be, however, is the tighter seal/encloser creating SPLs equal to those of a leaky seal? Is it all relative? I'm going to have to experiment to see if my tinitus is exacerbated by canal phones. After one day's use, it appears that the use of canal phones is a bit less irritating that looser fit earbuds driven to a higher level. I'm not sure yet, however, and I'll post my findings. Kinda hate experimenting on my own ears, though.
Note that in addition to the quality of the seal, low impedance phones (such as the Ety 4P) simply are louder (in terms of SPL) at equivalent volume levels. So you can definitely not use the volume meter of a source as a guide to relative volumes when you are switching headphones.
post #29 of 45
Thanks for all the good advice. Good to hear from a doctor. Thank you.

I find when flying, my Ety's make equalizing pressure inside my ears a little more difficult. But I can equalize my ear pressure pretty easily anyways.
I just want to make a note about canal phones and flying.

Since Bangkok is such a loud place, I sometimes wear earplugs to save my ears when I go out. I noticed on the instructions on my earplugs that scuba divers shouldn't use them and that earplugs should be removed when descending in an airplane. Someone in this thread said they woke up with bad ear pain after landing with their Etys in. If your flying and using canal phones, remove them during take off and landing process.

post #30 of 45
Well, that would explain it.

I really didn't have any pain, but I guess anyone that is sensitive should take them off during major altitude changes.

It's not bad when you can equalize/pop your own ears, but I agree about the falling asleep part. You don't automatically equalize your ears when sleeping, and can wake up with pain or discomfort. It happens to me (discomfort) when falling asleep with Ety's in when at cruising altitude.

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