Can Your Hearing be Harmed by Earbuds?

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? Now it’s so boring going for a walk in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

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

So when you finally find or buy a working set of earbuds, you’re grateful. Now your world is full of completely clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are all over the place these days, and individuals utilize them for so much more than just listening to their favorite music (though, naturally, they do that too).

But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your hearing because so many people are using them for so many listening tasks. Your hearing could be at risk if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are different for a number of reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a bulky, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). All that has now changed. Awesome sound quality can be produced 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 as much).

Partly because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up all over the place. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re talking on the phone, streaming your favorite program, or listening to music.

It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds useful in a wide variety of contexts. Because of this, many people use them almost all the time. And that’s become somewhat of a problem.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just waves of vibrating air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of interpreting those vibrations, organizing one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

In this endeavor, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. There are tiny hairs along your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re very small. Your inner ear is what really identifies these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are transformed 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 risks of earbud use

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is fairly 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:

  • Repeated exposure increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Going through social isolation or cognitive decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
  • Developing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t sure.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You might be thinking, well, the solution is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just lower the volume. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as important 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 might also damage your ears.

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

  • 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 task to reduce the volume.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn down the volume.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones in general, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop suddenly; it occurs slowly and over time. Which means, you may not even acknowledge it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is typically permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreparably destroyed due to noise).

The damage builds up slowly over time, and it normally begins as very limited in scope. NHIL can be difficult to identify as a result. It may be getting slowly worse, in the meantime, you think it’s just fine.

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

So the ideal plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists place a significant emphasis on prevention. Here are some ways to keep listening to your earbuds while decreasing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:

  • Some headphones and earbuds incorporate noise-canceling technology, try to use those. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.
  • Change up the types of headphones you’re using. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • Make routine visits with us to get your hearing examined. We will be capable of hearing you get screened and track the overall health of your hearing.
  • 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 scenarios.
  • If you do need to go into an overly loud setting, use ear protection. Wear earplugs, for example.
  • Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.

You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking measures to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. And, if you do wind up requiring treatment, such as hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just throw my earbuds in the trash? Not Exactly! Especially 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 might want to think about varying your strategy. These earbuds may be damaging your hearing and you may not even notice it. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, reduce the volume, that’s the first step. Step two is to consult with us about the state of your hearing right away.

If you think you may have damage because of 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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