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? Suddenly, your morning jog is so much more boring. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers significantly.

Often, you don’t recognize 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 buy a working set of earbuds, you’re grateful. Now your life is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are all over the place right now, and people use them for so much more than only listening to their favorite songs (though, of course, they do that too).

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

Earbuds are unique for numerous reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a set of headphones, you’d have to adopt a bulky, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That’s all now changed. Awesome sound quality can be produced in a very small space with modern earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Currently, you don’t find that as much).

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 talking on the phone, viewing your favorite show, or listening to tunes.

It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and reliability that makes earbuds practical in a large number of contexts. Because of this, many people use them virtually all the time. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

It’s all vibrations

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re just waves of vibrating air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of interpreting those vibrations, sorting one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

In this pursuit, your brain receives a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small hairs along your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually identifies these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are transformed into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

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 risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is fairly prevalent. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

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

  • Repeated subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Not being able to communicate with your friends and family without using a hearing aid.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.

There may 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 believe this while others still aren’t sure.

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

You may be thinking, well, the solution is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just reduce the volume. Naturally, this would be a smart idea. But it may 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 max volume for five minutes.

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

  • 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. If your listening volume gets too high, a warning will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. It’s best to take frequent and extended breaks.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.

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

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

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

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

There is currently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can reduce the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. But the total damage that’s being done, unfortunately, is permanent.

This means prevention is the best strategy

This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. And there are several ways to lower your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while using your earbuds:

  • Use hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Wear earplugs, for example.
  • Use volume-restricting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Make routine visits with us to get your hearing checked. We will be able to help you get tested and track the general health of your hearing.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, reduce the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Change up the styles of headphones you’re wearing. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling technology. This will mean you won’t need to crank the volume quite so loud in order to hear your media clearly.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you protect your sense of hearing for years longer. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do eventually require them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just throw my earbuds in the rubbish? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are expensive!

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds on a regular basis, you might want to think about changing your approach. You may not even realize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is knowing about the danger.

Step one is to control the volume and duration of your listening. The second step is to consult with us about the state of your hearing today.

Think you may 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.