Can Your Hearing be Harmed by Earbuds?

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

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

So you’re so happy when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. The world is instantly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals utilize them.

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

Earbuds are unique for a number of reasons

In the past, you would require cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not always the case now. Modern earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a very small space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (funny enough, they’re rather rare these days when you buy a new phone).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even include microphones) started to show up all over the place because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to tunes, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time consequently. And that’s become a bit of a problem.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

In essence, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the work of interpreting those vibrations, grouping 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. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually recognizes these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re transformed into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.

It’s not what kind of sound but volume that causes hearing damage. Which means the risk is the same whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR program.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

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

Using earbuds can increase your danger of:

  • Repeated exposure increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Developing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Not being able to communicate with your family and friends without wearing a hearing aid.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds may present greater risks than using regular headphones. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive components of your ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t sure.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

Perhaps you think there’s an easy fix: I’ll just lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes straight. Well… that would be helpful. But it may not be the total solution.

The reason is that it’s not simply the volume that’s the issue, it’s the duration. Modest volume for five hours can be equally as harmful as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • Take regular breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings turned on. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
  • If you don’t want to think about it, you may even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, particularly earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop suddenly; it progresses gradually and over time. Which means, you might not even acknowledge 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 are irreparably damaged due to noise).

The damage is barely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops gradually over time. NHIL can be difficult to identify as a result. It may be getting gradually worse, in the meantime, you think it’s just fine.

Regrettably, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. Still, there are treatments designed to mitigate and minimize some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the total damage that’s being done, sadly, is permanent.

So the ideal strategy is prevention

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

  • Use earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud in order to hear your media clearly.
  • If you do have to go into an extremely noisy setting, use ear protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
  • Make regular visits with us to get your hearing tested. We will be able to help you get assessed and monitor the general health of your hearing.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • Switch up the types of headphones you’re wearing. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not using earbuds. Avoid exceedingly loud settings whenever possible.

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 ultimately need them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just toss my earbuds in the garbage? Not Exactly! Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!

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

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

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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