Could Earbuds be Damaging Your Ears?

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 run in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

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

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. The world is instantly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds are everywhere right now, and people use them for a lot more than simply listening to their favorite tunes (though, obviously, they do that too).

Regrettably, in part because they’re so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some considerable risks for your hearing. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you may be putting your hearing at risk!

Why earbuds are different

In the past, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. All that has now changed. Incredible sound quality can be produced in a really small space with contemporary earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re somewhat rare nowadays when you buy a new phone).

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

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

Vibrations are what it’s all about

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re simply waves of vibrating air molecules. 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 intermediary for this process. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re converted into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

It’s not what type of sound but volume that causes hearing loss. Which means the risk is equivalent whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

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 danger of:

  • Continued exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Going through social isolation or mental decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid in order to communicate with friends and loved ones.

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason may be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are convinced.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

Perhaps you think there’s a simple solution: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just reduce the volume. Naturally, this would be a good idea. But it might not be the complete answer.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as damaging as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
  • If you don’t want to think about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Lower the volume.)
  • Stop listening immediately if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to ache.
  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings enabled. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to lower the volume.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, specifically earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally occurs gradually over time not suddenly. Most of the time people don’t even recognize that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

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

Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreversibly damaged due to noise).

The damage is barely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. That can make NIHL difficult to detect. It might be getting progressively worse, all the while, you believe it’s just fine.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. Still, there are treatments designed to offset and minimize some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the total damage that’s being done, regrettably, is irreversible.

So the best plan is prevention

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

  • Some headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this function, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite as loud.
  • Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • When you’re not using your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud situations.
  • Change up the types of headphones you’re using. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
  • Getting your hearing tested by us regularly is a good plan. We will help determine the general health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • If you do have to go into an overly loud setting, use ear protection. Use earplugs, for instance.

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

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should find your nearest set of earbuds and throw them in the trash? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!

But your strategy may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds may be damaging your hearing and you might not even realize it. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. Step two is to talk to us about the state of your hearing today.

If you believe you might have damage caused by 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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