Could Earbuds be Damaging Your Hearing?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever left your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the wash or maybe lost them altogether? All of a sudden, your morning jog is so much more boring. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

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 pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of people utilize them.

Regrettably, in part because they are so easy and so common, earbuds present some substantial risks for your hearing. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing at risk!

Why earbuds are unique

In previous years, you would need bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not always the situation anymore. Modern earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a very small space. They were popularized by smartphone manufacturers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you buy a new phone).

Partly because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they began showing up all over the place. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite program, or listening to tunes.

Earbuds are practical in quite a few contexts because of their dependability, portability, and convenience. Consequently, many consumers use them almost all the time. And that’s become a bit of an issue.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re simply waves of vibrating air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of translating those vibrations, grouping one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. Inside of your ear are very small hairs known as stereocilia that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re 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. Which means the risk is equivalent whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

The danger of hearing damage is widespread because of the popularity of earbuds. 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 utilize earbuds at high volume, you increase your danger of:

  • Developing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being able to communicate with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may introduce greater risks than using conventional headphones. The reason might be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.

Besides, what’s more important is the volume, and any set of headphones is capable of delivering dangerous levels of sound.

Duration is also an issue besides volume

Perhaps you think there’s a simple solution: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just reduce the volume. Of course, this would be a good idea. But there’s more to it than that.

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

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

  • Stop listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
  • Take frequent breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level alerts turned on. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume goes a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to lower the volume.
  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.
  • Many smart devices let you reduce the max volume so you won’t even have to worry about it.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, specifically earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) happen all of a sudden; it progresses slowly and over time. Most of the time individuals don’t even detect that it’s happening until it’s too late.

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

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreparably destroyed due to noise).

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

There is currently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. Still, there are treatments created to mitigate and decrease some of the most considerable effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t counter the damage that’s been done.

So the best plan is prevention

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

  • When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • If you do need to go into an extremely noisy setting, utilize hearing protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work exceptionally well.
  • Change up the styles of headphones you’re using. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones too.
  • Use earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling technology. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you are not wearing earbuds. Avoid excessively loud environments whenever you can.
  • Schedule routine visits with us to get your hearing tested. We will be able to help you get tested and track the general health of your hearing.

You will be able to preserve 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?

Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the garbage? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.

But your strategy could need to be changed 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.

When you listen, regulate the volume, that’s the first step. The second step is to consult with us about the state of your hearing today.

If you believe you may have damage due to 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.

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