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? All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

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. The world is instantly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people utilize them.

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

Why earbuds are different

In the past, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. All that has now changed. Incredible 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 all through the 2010s (Currently, you don’t see that so much).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even have microphones) began showing up everywhere because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re talking on the phone, viewing your favorite show, or listening to tunes.

It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a large number of contexts. Because of this, many people use them almost all the time. And that’s become a bit of an issue.

It’s all vibrations

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

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs called stereocilia that vibrate when subjected to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really recognizes these vibrations. At this stage, you have a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what allows your brain to make heads or tails of it all.

This is important 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

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage due to loud noise is very prevalent. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

Using earbuds can increase your danger of:

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

There could be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason might be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t sure.

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

It isn’t just volume, it’s duration, as well

You may be thinking, well, the fix is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just reduce the volume. Well… that would help. But it may not be the complete answer.

This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as harmful as top 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.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn the volume down.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings turned on. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume gets a bit too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
  • Take regular breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones in general, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen suddenly; it progresses gradually and over time. The majority of the time people don’t even realize that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreparably damaged due to noise).

The damage is scarcely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops gradually over time. That can make NIHL difficult to detect. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s gradually getting worse and worse.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. Still, there are treatments designed to offset and decrease some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the general damage that’s being done, unfortunately, is permanent.

This means prevention is the most useful approach

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a considerable focus on prevention. And there are a number of ways to decrease your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while using your earbuds:

  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not using earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud scenarios.
  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re wearing. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • Getting your hearing tested by us regularly is a good plan. We will help establish the general health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • If you do have to go into an overly noisy environment, utilize ear protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud in order to hear your media clearly.

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 wind up needing treatment, such as hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

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

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you may want to consider varying your approach. You may not even realize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

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

Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested 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.