Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever left 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 jog in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad sound quality.

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

So when you finally find or buy a working set of earbuds, you’re grateful. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals utilize them.

Unfortunately, in part because they are so easy and so widely used, earbuds present some substantial risks for your ears. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in jeopardy!

Earbuds are unique for several reasons

In previous years, you would need bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. That’s all now changed. Awesome sound quality can be produced in a really small space with modern earbuds. They were popularized by smartphone makers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (Presently, you don’t see that as much).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even have microphones) started to show up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the leading ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite program, or listening to tunes.

Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. As a result, many people use them virtually all the time. And that’s become somewhat of an issue.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

In essence, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply waves of vibrating air molecules. Your brain will then sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. Inside of your ear are very small hairs known as stereocilia that oscillate when subjected to sound. These are not big vibrations, they’re very small. Your inner ear is what really recognizes these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are transformed into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

This is important because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing loss, it’s volume. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is the same.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

The danger of hearing damage is widespread 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 increase your danger of:

  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with friends and loved ones.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds may introduce 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.

Besides, what’s more significant is the volume, and any pair of headphones is able to deliver hazardous levels of sound.

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

Perhaps you think there’s a simple solution: I’ll simply turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes straight. Of course, this would be a smart plan. But there’s more to it than that.

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 top volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours could also damage your ears.

So here’s how you can be a bit safer when you listen:

  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings turned on. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume goes a bit too high. Of course, then it’s your job to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be able to change 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 more turn the volume down.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, particularly earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss usually occurs gradually over time not immediately. Which means, you may not even acknowledge it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.

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

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is typically permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by overexposure to loud sound, they can never recover.

The damage is barely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. That can make NIHL hard to recognize. It may be getting progressively worse, all the while, you believe it’s perfectly fine.

Sadly, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments designed to mitigate and reduce some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the general damage that’s being done, unfortunately, is permanent.

So the ideal strategy is prevention

This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. Here are some ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while lowering your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Use multiple kinds of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones too.
  • Make regular visits with us to have your hearing examined. We will help determine the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • Many 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 so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Use volume-restricting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Use earplugs, for example.

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

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should grab your nearest pair of earbuds and throw them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are not cheap!

But your strategy may need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. You might not even recognize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

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

Think you might 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.

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