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 walk in the morning. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

Sometimes, you don’t grasp how valuable something is until you have to live without it (yes, we are not being subtle around here today).

So when you finally find or purchase a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is instantly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds are all over the place nowadays, and individuals utilize them for so much more than simply listening to their favorite songs (though, obviously, they do that too).

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your ears because so many people are using them for so many listening tasks. Your hearing may be at risk if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Why earbuds are unique

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a set of headphones, you’d have to use a heavy, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). That’s all now changed. Incredible sound quality can be created in a really small space with contemporary earbuds. They were made popular by smartphone makers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (At present, you don’t see that so much).

In part because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they began showing up everywhere. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to music, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the primary ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their reliability, portability, and convenience. Consequently, many consumers use them almost all the time. And that’s become somewhat of a problem.

It’s all vibrations

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re simply air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the work of translating those vibrations, organizing one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

In this activity, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. Inside of your ear are very small hairs called stereocilia that oscillate when subjected to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At that point, there’s a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical signals, 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

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

Using earbuds can raise your risk of:

  • Going through social isolation or cognitive decline due to hearing loss.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
  • Continued subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The thinking here is that the sound is directed toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t sure.

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

It’s not just volume, it’s duration, also

Perhaps you think there’s a simple fix: I’ll simply turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes straight. Obviously, this would be a good idea. 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 medium volume for five hours could also damage your ears.

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

  • Quit listening immediately if you hear ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
  • Enable volume alerts on your device. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Naturally, then it’s up to you to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Reduce the volume.)
  • If you don’t want to think about it, you might even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, especially earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally happens slowly over time not suddenly. Which means, you might not even acknowledge it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreversibly destroyed due to noise).

The damage accumulates gradually over time, and it normally begins as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL hard to recognize. It may be getting progressively worse, all the while, you think it’s perfectly fine.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can mitigate the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

So the best plan is prevention

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

  • Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Use multiple types of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones too.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you are not using earbuds. Avoid overly loud environments whenever you can.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Use earplugs, for example.
  • Make regular visits with us to have your hearing examined. We will help determine the general health of your hearing by having you screened.
  • Some headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this feature, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite as loud.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do end up requiring treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just toss my earbuds in the rubbish? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get expensive.

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

When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

If you believe you might have damage due to overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!

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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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