Why Does Chewing Sound Louder with Headphones?

by Josh Koop | Last Updated:   4 months ago
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You are not alone if you have noticed that when you put on your headphones and start listening to music, that if you begin to eat something during this span, you are able to hear your chewing much louder and more clearly than you can if there were no headphones.

Sounds become louder when you have headphones on due to blocking the natural sounds into your ears but the objects inside the mouth can transfer via the timpani, similar to bone conduction through the bone. This leads to a misconception of a difference in volume when there truly isn’t any.

When this happens it can become annoying and rather distracting while keeping you from really focusing on what you are trying to listen to.

For quite some time, a lot of people did not really understand why this would happen and if there was anything they could do to either prevent the chewing from getting louder or at least reduce how loud the chewing can become.

Portrait of young playful blonde girl blowing a bubble with chewing gum

What Causes Your Chewing to be so Loud?

When it comes to what exactly causes your chewing to be louder with headphones, scientists have called it the occlusion effect. Usually, when you are breathing, chewing food, or swallowing, that is a sound that is usually sent through your body via the vessels called your bones.

If you want to get even more specific, your jaw and skull do most of the work transmitting those noises throughout your body. When your bones create these low frequency type vibrations, they are usually sent out of your body through your ears.

So as you can imagine, if you have a nice pair of headphones on, those vibrations do not have the open air to continue their journey in. Instead, your headphones now create a type of resonating chamber in the space found between your eardrum and where your headphones are blocking.

So not only are you noticing noises within your body that are usually cancelled out by the noises of the world around you. Now, there is an actual amplification of your inside noise by around 20 decibels.

Essentially, since you are blocking the soundwaves from being able to escape your body, they are stuck to reverberate in your ear which is why they seem so loud. Some studies do show that the smaller the headphones are, the lower the chewing may seem.

While your chewing will still be louder than it normally would, at least it may not be as loud as it would be if you had really nice expensive headphones.

If you have small ones like earbuds, there is a better chance some of those inner vibrations find their way out your ear, which reduces the decibels you will ultimately hear from your chewing.

Does Chewing with Headphones Cause Any Damage?

The quickest and easiest answer to that question is a simple no but the answer does get a little more complicated when you look into it. To start off, if you are experiencing pain in your ears when you are chewing while you have headphones on, the first thing you need to do is take off the headphones and see if that pain is still there.

If it is no longer there, you may want to avoid chewing while your headphones on. If the pain is still in your ears once you take the headphones off, you want to immediately see your doctor and have them check if there is anything wrong in your ears.

Now even though chewing while wearing your headphones should not cause any damage in theory, remember, as stated above, when you do so, you are adding an additional 20 decibels in your ears. Your ears have cells and hairs in them that sense noise and transmit them to the brain.

That is how you hear everything you do. Unfortunately those sensory cells and hairs do not regenerate like the ones on your skin and that is why your hearing gets worse and worse over time. So what that means is that the more you strain your ears, the more likely that your hearing gets worse even quicker.

That is the risk you take when you add an additional 20 decibels on your ears. All that is is more pressure on your sensory cells and makes them deteriorate more than they would have if you could just sit back and wait to listen to your headphones until you are done eating or drinking. 

Do You Have Any Other Options?

Now that you are aware of what is going one, you may now wonder if there are alternative options for you to eat while you have your headphones on. As stated above, you can always try using smaller headphones that allow at least some of the vibrations to escape your eardrum.

If you are dead set on having the headphones you have, then it is suggested that you just try not to chew and wear them at the same time. Another option, which is a bit new and nuanced, is getting your hands on a pair of bone conducting headphones.

If you have never heard of these, what these headphones do is allow sound to transmit to your eardrum without having to pass through your ear canal. These types of headphones may help relieve that stress you feel when you chew with headphones on since these headphones do not go directly in your ears.

Instead, they are placed on the side between your earlobe and temple. Some people really enjoy that type of headphones while others say they just do not feel right. So that is an option that is out there for you to test yourself and see what you think.

Final Thoughts on Why Does Chewing Sound Louder with Headphones

In the end, it is absolutely normal for your chewing, swallowing, and breathing to be louder when you have headphones on. In fact, it would be alarming if they did not get louder.

While this is completely natural, there are things you are going to want to keep in mind about it when it comes to the health of your ears.

Even though your options may be limited, you are going to want to take care of yourself and explore every avenue. You only get two ears, so don’t go wasting them on two activities that can easily be done separately.

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