Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, unintentionally left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the laundry?) Now it’s so boring going for a run in the morning. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

Sometimes, you don’t recognize how valuable something is until you’ve lost it (yes, we are not being discreet around here today).

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. Now your life is full of completely clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of people utilize them.

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your ears because so many people use them for so many listening tasks. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in jeopardy!

Why earbuds are different

In the past, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That isn’t always the situation now. Contemporary earbuds can supply fantastic sound in a very small space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Currently, you don’t find that as much).

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

Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of individuals use them basically all of the time consequently. That’s where things get a little tricky.

It’s all vibrations

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re simply air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. Your brain will then sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this activity, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. There are tiny hairs along your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not large vibrations, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually identifies these vibrations. 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 damage. Which means the risk is the same whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.

The dangers of earbud use

The risk of hearing damage is prevalent because of the appeal of earbuds. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.

Using earbuds can raise your danger of:

  • Continued subjection increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might present greater risks than using regular headphones. 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 pair of headphones is capable of delivering hazardous levels of sound.

It isn’t only volume, it’s duration, too

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. Of course, this would be a smart plan. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will damage your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours could also harm your ears.

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

  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn the volume down.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings enabled. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Of course, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.
  • Quit listening right away if you hear ringing in your ears or your ears start to ache.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing 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. Most of the time people don’t even recognize that it’s happening until it’s too late.

There is 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 destroyed due to noise).

The damage is scarcely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. You might think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s slowly getting worse and worse.

There is currently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. Still, there are treatments created to offset and decrease 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, sadly, is permanent.

So the ideal plan is prevention

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

  • Switch up the types of headphones you’re wearing. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones sometimes. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
  • Some headphones and earbuds include noise-canceling technology, try to use those. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud in order to hear your media clearly.
  • Getting your hearing tested by us routinely is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get assessed and monitor the general health of your hearing.
  • If you do need to go into an overly loud environment, utilize hearing protection. Ear plugs, for example, work quite well.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • When you’re not using your earbuds, reduce the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud situations.

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

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just toss my earbuds in the garbage? Well, no. Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are not cheap!

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

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. 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 assessed 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.