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 laundry or maybe lost them altogether? Suddenly, your morning jog is so much more boring. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad sound quality.

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 suddenly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are everywhere nowadays, and individuals utilize them for a lot more than simply listening to their favorite songs (though, of course, they do that too).

Unfortunately, partly because they’re so easy and so widely used, earbuds present some considerable risks for your hearing. Your hearing could be in jeopardy if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are unique for a number of reasons

In previous years, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not always the situation now. Awesome sound quality can be produced in a very small space with modern earbuds. They were popularized by smartphone makers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (funny enough, they’re rather rare nowadays when you purchase a new phone).

In part because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up everywhere. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to tunes, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the chief 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. Because of this, many consumers use them pretty much all the time. And that’s become somewhat of an issue.

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 just waves of vibrating air molecules. Your brain will then sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are transformed 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. Which means the risk is equivalent whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.

The risks of earbud use

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.

On an individual level, when you use earbuds at high volume, you increase your danger of:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may present greater risks than using conventional headphones. 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 deliver hazardous levels of that.

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You may be thinking, well, the solution is simple: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes in a row. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.

The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Modest volume for five hours can be just as damaging as top volume for five minutes.

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

  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Reduce the volume.)
  • Be certain that your device has volume level alerts turned on. 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!
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones generally, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss typically happens slowly over time not immediately. 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. 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 builds up gradually over time, and it normally begins as very limited in scope. NHIL can be difficult to detect as a result. It may be getting progressively worse, in the meantime, you think it’s just fine.

There is presently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can minimize the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the best strategy

This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. Here are several ways to keep listening to your earbuds while decreasing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Use multiple kinds of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • Many headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • Getting your hearing tested by us routinely is a smart plan. We will help determine the general health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • When you’re using your devices, use volume-limiting apps.

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?

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

But your strategy could need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. These earbuds could be damaging your hearing and you might not even recognize it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

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.

If you think you might have damage caused by overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!

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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.
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