Could Earbuds be Harming Your Hearing?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, accidentally left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) Now it’s so boring going for a walk in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies here.

So when you finally find or buy a working set of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is suddenly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds are all over the place these days, and people utilize them for a lot more than simply listening to their favorite tunes (though, of course, they do that too).

But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your ears because so many people use them for so many listening activities. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you could be putting your hearing in danger!

Why earbuds are unique

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a bulky, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). All that has now changed. Contemporary earbuds can supply amazing sound in a tiny space. They were made popular by smartphone makers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (frequently they even have microphones) started to show up everywhere because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the primary ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their dependability, mobility, and convenience. Consequently, many consumers use them almost all the time. That’s where things get a little challenging.

It’s all vibrations

Essentially, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of translating those vibrations, sorting one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not large vibrations, they’re very small. Your inner ear is what really identifies these vibrations. At this stage, you have a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what allows your brain to figure it all out.

This is important because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing damage, it’s volume. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is exactly the same.

The dangers of earbud use

The risk of hearing damage is prevalent because of the appeal of earbuds. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

On an individual level, when you utilize earbuds at high volume, you raise your danger of:

  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.
  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your family and friends without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Advancing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might present greater risks than using conventional headphones. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t convinced.

Besides, what’s more relevant is the volume, and any pair of headphones is able to deliver dangerous levels of sound.

It isn’t only volume, it’s duration, too

You may be thinking, well, the fix is simple: I’ll simply lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes straight. Naturally, this would be a smart idea. But there’s more to it than that.

The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the issue, it’s the duration. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as damaging as top volume for five minutes.

So here’s how you can be a bit safer when you listen:

  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Reduce the volume.)
  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Quit listening right away if you experience ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
  • Some smart devices allow you to reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to worry about it.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level alerts turned on. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume goes a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to lower the volume.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, particularly earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss typically happens gradually over time not immediately. The majority of the time people don’t even recognize that it’s happening until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by overexposure to loud sound, they can never recover.

The damage is scarcely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. NHIL can be hard to identify as a result. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it is slowly getting worse and worse.

Sadly, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments designed to offset and minimize some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to counter the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the most useful strategy

That’s why so many hearing specialists place a considerable focus on prevention. Here are several ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while decreasing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:

  • Change up the styles of headphones you’re wearing. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • When you’re not using your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud scenarios.
  • If you do need to go into an extremely noisy environment, utilize ear protection. Use earplugs, for instance.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • Many headphones and earbuds include noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite as loud.
  • Make routine visits with us to get your hearing tested. We will help identify the overall health of your hearing by having you screened.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately need them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just throw my earbuds in the rubbish? Not Exactly! Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are not cheap!

But your strategy may need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You might not even realize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

Step one is to control the volume and duration of your listening. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested now!

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.


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