Can Your Hearing be Harmed by Earbuds?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, maybe, inadvertently left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the laundry?) All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

Sometimes, you don’t grasp 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 set of earbuds. The world is instantly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are everywhere nowadays, and individuals use them for a lot more than only listening to their favorite tunes (though, naturally, they do that too).

Regrettably, in part because they are so easy and so common, earbuds present some significant risks for your ears. Your hearing might 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 pair of headphones, you’d have to use a heavy, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That’s not always the case anymore. Awesome sound quality can be created in a really small space with contemporary earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (At present, you don’t find that as much).

These little earbuds (frequently they even have microphones) began showing up everywhere because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the primary ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are practical in a number of contexts because of their dependability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time as a result. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

It’s all vibrations

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

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs known as stereocilia that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really recognizes these vibrations. At this stage, there’s a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what allows your brain to figure it all out.

It’s not what kind of sound but volume that results in hearing damage. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is exactly the same.

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage due to loud noise is pretty prevalent. 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:

  • Developing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your family and friends without using a hearing aid.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.

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

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You might be thinking, well, the fix is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply reduce the volume. Of course, this would be a smart plan. But it might not be the complete answer.

The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Think about it like this: listening at max volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours might also harm your ears.

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

  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn the volume down.
  • Enable volume alerts on your device. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
  • Many smart devices allow you to reduce the max volume so you won’t even have to think about it.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, specifically earbuds. 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. Most of the time people don’t even detect that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by overexposure to loud sound, they can never recover.

The damage accumulates gradually over time, and it normally begins as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL difficult to detect. It may be getting progressively worse, in the meantime, you believe it’s perfectly fine.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. Still, there are treatments created to mitigate and decrease some of the most considerable effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to counter the damage that’s been done.

So the best plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists place a significant emphasis on prevention. And there are multiple ways to lower your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while using your earbuds:

  • When you’re not using your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud scenarios.
  • If you do have to go into an overly noisy environment, use ear protection. Wear earplugs, for example.
  • Getting your hearing tested by us routinely is a good plan. We will be able to help you get tested and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • Use multiple kinds of headphones. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones sometimes. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • Many headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.

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

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should grab your nearest set of earbuds and chuck them in the trash? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you might want to consider varying your strategy. These earbuds could be harming your hearing and you might not even recognize it. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

When you listen, regulate the volume, that’s the first step. But speaking with us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

Think you may have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested 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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