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 jog in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad audio quality.

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 pair of earbuds, you’re grateful. Now your life is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of people use them.

But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your ears because so many people use them for so many listening tasks. Your hearing may be in jeopardy if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are unique for several reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a pair of headphones, you’d have to use a bulky, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That’s not always the situation anymore. Contemporary earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a tiny space. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re somewhat rare nowadays when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even include microphones) began showing 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, 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. Lots of individuals use them pretty much all of the time consequently. And that’s become somewhat of an issue.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Essentially, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. 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 exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are 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. Which means the risk is the same whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR program.

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage due to loud noise is quite widespread. 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:

  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason might be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components 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.

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

Perhaps you think there’s a simple fix: I’ll simply lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes straight. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as damaging as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • Some smart devices let you decrease the max volume so you won’t even need to worry about it.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Enable volume alerts on your device. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume goes a bit too high. Naturally, then it’s your job to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, specifically earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss typically happens gradually over time not suddenly. Which means, you may not even recognize it happening, 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. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreparably destroyed due to noise).

The damage is hardly noticeable, especially in the early stages, and progresses slowly over time. NHIL can be difficult to identify as a result. You might think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it is slowly getting worse and worse.

There is currently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. However, there are treatments created to offset and reduce some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the general damage that’s being done, sadly, is irreversible.

So the ideal plan is prevention

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

  • If you do need to go into an extremely noisy setting, utilize hearing protection. Use earplugs, for example.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud situations.
  • Getting your hearing checked by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get screened and track the general health of your hearing.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling technology. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite so loud.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Use multiple types of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones also.

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

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the garbage? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are expensive!

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you might want to consider changing your strategy. You may not even realize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, limit 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 may have damage due to 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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