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 laundry or maybe lost them altogether? Now it’s so boring going for a run in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers significantly.

Sometimes, you don’t recognize how valuable something is until you’ve lost it (yes, we are not being discreet around here today).

So you’re so happy when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people use them.

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

Why earbuds are different

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to use a heavy, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That isn’t necessarily the case anymore. Contemporary earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a tiny space. They were made popular by smartphone makers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re somewhat rare nowadays when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even include microphones) started to show up everywhere because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite show, or listening to music.

It’s that mixture of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds useful in a wide variety of contexts. Lots of individuals use them pretty much all of the time as a result. That’s where things get a little challenging.

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 moved by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of translating those vibrations, sorting one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. There are tiny hairs along your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not big vibrations, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really recognizes these vibrations. At that point, there’s a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what lets your brain make heads or tails of it all.

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

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

The risk of hearing damage is widespread because of the appeal 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 raise your danger of:

  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Repeated exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid so that you can communicate with friends and loved ones.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.

There could be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The thinking here is that the sound is directed toward the more sensitive components of your ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are convinced.

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

Duration is also a concern besides volume

Perhaps you think there’s a simple solution: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just reduce the volume. Well… that would be helpful. But it might not be the total answer.

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 equally as damaging as top volume for five minutes.

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

  • Some smart devices allow you to lower the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Activate volume warnings on your device. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume goes a little too high. Of course, then it’s your job to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a max 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.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones in general, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) happen suddenly; it occurs slowly and over time. Which means, you may not even acknowledge 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 usually irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreversibly destroyed due to noise).

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

Unfortunately, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. Still, there are treatments designed to offset and reduce some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular 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 best approach

This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. Here are several ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while decreasing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Schedule regular visits with us to have your hearing examined. We will help establish the general health of your hearing by having you screened.
  • If you do have to go into an extremely loud environment, use hearing protection. Use earplugs, for instance.
  • Utilize 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.
  • Change up the styles of headphones you’re using. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones sometimes. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones too.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud situations.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly 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?

So does all this mean you should find your nearest pair of earbuds and chuck them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.

But your approach 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 moderate the volume and duration of your listening. But speaking with 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!

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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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