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. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

Sometimes, you don’t realize 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 suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are all over the place nowadays, and individuals use them for a lot more than simply listening to their favorite music (though, obviously, they do that too).

Regrettably, in part because they’re so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some substantial risks for your hearing. Your hearing could be in danger if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are unique for several reasons

In the past, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not always the case now. Incredible sound quality can be created 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 (Presently, you don’t see that so much).

In part because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they began showing up all over the place. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to tunes, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the primary ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

It’s that combination of convenience, portability, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a wide variety of contexts. As a result, many consumers use them virtually all the time. That’s where things get a bit challenging.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re just air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of interpreting those vibrations, grouping one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

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

This is significant 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 the same.

The risks of earbud use

The danger 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.

On an individual level, when you utilize earbuds at high volume, you raise your risk of:

  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Advancing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Continued exposure increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • 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 thinking here is that the sound is directed toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are convinced.

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

It’s not just volume, it’s duration, too

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

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

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

  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Make sure that your device has volume level warnings turned on. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Reduce the volume.)
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, especially earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss generally occurs slowly over time not immediately. The majority of the time people don’t even notice that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

There is no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss

Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.

The damage is hardly noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. It may be getting slowly worse, all the while, you think it’s perfectly fine.

Sadly, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments designed to offset and minimize some of the most significant 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 permanent.

So the ideal strategy is prevention

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

  • Getting your hearing tested by us routinely is a smart plan. We will help determine the overall health of your hearing by having you screened.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, minimize 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 scenarios.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t have to turn the volume quite so high so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • Use volume-controlling apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Use other kinds of headphones. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones also.
  • If you do have to go into an overly noisy setting, utilize ear protection. Use earplugs, for example.

You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking steps to prevent hearing loss, especially NHIL. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately need them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should grab your nearest set of earbuds and chuck them in the trash? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.

But your approach may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. These earbuds may be damaging your hearing and you might not even notice it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

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 might 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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