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Can Your Hearing be Harmed by Earbuds?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever forgotten your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the wash or maybe lost them altogether? Now it’s so boring going for a jog in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad audio quality.

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

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. The world is instantly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals utilize them.

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

Why earbuds are different

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a bulky, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). All that has now changed. Awesome sound quality can be created in a very small space with modern earbuds. They were made popular by smartphone makers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smartphone sold all through the 2010s (Currently, you don’t find that as much).

Partly because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they started showing up all over the place. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their dependability, mobility, and convenience. As a result, many consumers use them virtually all the time. That’s where things get a little tricky.

It’s all vibrations

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re simply air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. Your brain will then classify the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this endeavor, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs known as stereocilia that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually identifies these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are converted into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

This is significant 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

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is fairly widespread. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.

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

  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with friends and loved ones.
  • Continued subjection increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Experiencing social isolation or cognitive decline as a result of hearing loss.
  • Developing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds may introduce greater risks than using conventional headphones. The reason may be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.

Either way, volume is the principal consideration, and both kinds of headphones can create hazardous levels of that.

It’s not simply volume, it’s duration, as well

You might be thinking, well, the solution is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll simply lower the volume. Well… that would be helpful. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as important as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours could also damage your ears.

When you listen, here are a few ways to make it safer:

  • Some smart devices allow you to reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • Stop listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. It’s best to take frequent and lengthy breaks.
  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn the volume down.
  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Make sure that your device has volume level warnings enabled. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume goes a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, especially earbuds. So give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen suddenly; it occurs slowly and over time. Which means, you might not even notice it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.

There’s no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is typically 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 progresses gradually over time. That can make NIHL difficult to detect. You may think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it’s gradually getting worse and worse.

Sadly, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can minimize the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, are not able to reverse the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the best approach

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

  • Control the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not using earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud scenarios.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • Use hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for example, work remarkably well.
  • Schedule routine visits with us to have your hearing examined. We will be capable of hearing you get tested and track the overall health of your hearing.
  • Use other kinds of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones once in a while. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling technology. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.

You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking measures to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately require them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should grab your nearest pair of earbuds and chuck them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are not cheap!

But your strategy may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds could be damaging your hearing and you might not even recognize it. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. Step two is to talk to us about the state of your hearing right away.

If you think you might have damage caused by overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!

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.