Could Earbuds be Damaging Your Hearing?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, inadvertently left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the laundry?) All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor audio quality.

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

So when you finally find or purchase a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. Now your world is full of completely clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are everywhere right now, and individuals use them for a lot more than only listening to their favorite music (though, of course, they do that too).

Regrettably, partly because they’re so easy and so common, earbuds present some substantial risks for your ears. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you may be putting your hearing in danger!

Earbuds are unique for numerous reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a pair of headphones, you’d have to use a bulky, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That isn’t always the situation now. Incredible sound quality can be produced in a really small space with modern earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (funny enough, they’re pretty rare nowadays when you buy a new phone).

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

It’s that mixture of convenience, mobility, and reliability that makes earbuds practical in a wide variety of contexts. Because of this, many consumers use them almost all the time. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

It’s all vibrations

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re just waves of vibrating air molecules. Your brain will then classify the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this endeavor, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small hairs along your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not large vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. At this stage, you have a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what allows your brain to figure it all out.

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 the same.

The dangers of earbud use

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

Using earbuds can increase your risk of:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid in order to communicate with friends and loved ones.

There could be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason may be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.

Either way, volume is the main factor, and both kinds of headphones can deliver hazardous levels of that.

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

You may be thinking, well, the solution is simple: I’ll simply lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes straight. Well… that would help. But it might not be the total answer.

This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. Modest volume for five hours can be just as damaging as top volume for five minutes.

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

  • 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.
  • Enable volume warnings on your device. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume gets a bit too high. Naturally, then it’s up to you to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Many smart devices allow you to lower the max volume so you won’t even have to think about it.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Take frequent breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones generally, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen all of a sudden; it occurs gradually and over time. Which means, you might not even recognize it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.

The damage accumulates slowly over time, and it usually starts as very limited in scope. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. You might think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it is gradually getting worse and worse.

Sadly, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments designed to offset and decrease some of the most significant effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the total damage that’s being done, sadly, is permanent.

So the best plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists place a substantial focus on prevention. And there are several ways to lower your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • Change up the styles of headphones you’re using. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones now and then. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones also.
  • Getting your hearing checked by us routinely is a smart plan. We will be capable of hearing you get tested and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • If you do have to go into an overly noisy environment, utilize hearing protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
  • Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Control the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you’re not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud scenarios.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling technology. With this feature, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite so loud.

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

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should find your nearest set of earbuds and throw them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get costly.

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you may want to think about varying your approach. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

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

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