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. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. 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 happy when you finally get a working set of earbuds. Now your life is full of completely clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are all over the place these days, and individuals utilize them for a lot more than just listening to their favorite songs (though, of course, they do that too).

Regrettably, in part because they are so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some considerable risks for your hearing. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you could be putting your hearing at risk!

Earbuds are unique for several 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 jargon for headphones). That’s all now changed. Modern earbuds can supply fantastic sound in a very small space. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (Presently, you don’t see that as much).

In part because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they started showing up all over the place. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the leading ways you’re talking on the phone, viewing your favorite show, or listening to music.

Earbuds are practical in a number of contexts because of their reliability, portability, and convenience. As a result, many people use them pretty much all the time. That’s where things get a little tricky.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Essentially, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply 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.

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs called stereocilia that oscillate when subjected to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are transformed into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.

This is important 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 podcast.

The dangers of earbud use

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage due to loud noise is fairly 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:

  • Advancing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without using a hearing aid.
  • Repeated exposure increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The thinking here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive components of your ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t sure.

Besides, what’s more important is the volume, and any set of headphones is capable of delivering dangerous levels of sound.

Duration is also an issue besides volume

Maybe you think there’s an easy fix: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just reduce the volume. Of course, this would be a good idea. But there’s more to it than that.

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

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

  • Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level alerts turned on. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume goes a little too high. Of course, then it’s your job to adjust 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.
  • If you don’t want to think about it, you might even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, specifically earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) develop all of a sudden; it progresses slowly and over time. The majority of the time people don’t even recognize that it’s happening until it’s too late.

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

Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. 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 is hardly noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. NHIL can be difficult to identify as a result. It may be getting progressively worse, all the while, you think it’s perfectly fine.

There is presently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can reduce the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. But the overall damage that’s being done, unfortunately, is irreversible.

This means prevention is the most useful approach

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

  • If you do need to go into an extremely noisy environment, utilize ear protection. Ear plugs, for example, work quite well.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. Avoid exceedingly loud settings whenever you can.
  • Some headphones and earbuds incorporate noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this feature, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite as loud.
  • Change up the styles of headphones you’re wearing. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones sometimes. Try using over-the-ear headphones too.
  • Having your hearing tested by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get screened and monitor the general health of your hearing.
  • When you’re using your devices, use volume-limiting apps.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you safeguard your sense of hearing for years longer. 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 grab your nearest set of earbuds and throw them in the trash? Not Exactly! Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are not cheap!

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you might want to think about changing your strategy. These earbuds may be damaging your hearing and you may not even notice it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, reduce 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.