Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, maybe, unintentionally left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the laundry?) All of a sudden, your morning jog is so much more boring. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And the audio 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 purchase a working set of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is suddenly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people use them.

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

Why earbuds are different

In the past, you would need bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. All that has now changed. Fabulous 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 (amusing enough, they’re somewhat rare these days when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even have 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 show, or listening to tunes.

Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of people use them basically all of the time consequently. And that’s become a bit of a problem.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. Your brain will then organize 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 called stereocilia that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are converted into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.

This is significant 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 exactly the same.

The dangers of earbud use

The risk of hearing damage is widespread because of the popularity of earbuds. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

Using earbuds can increase your risk of:

  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Advancing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid in order to communicate with friends and loved ones.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional 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 convinced.

Either way, volume is the biggest consideration, and both kinds of headphones can create hazardous levels of that.

It’s not only volume, it’s duration, as well

You might be thinking, well, the solution is easy: I’ll just lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes straight. Obviously, this would be a good 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. Modest volume for five hours can be equally as harmful as top volume for five minutes.

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

  • Enable volume alerts on your device. If your listening volume goes too high, a warning will alert you. Naturally, then it’s up to you to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • Quit listening immediately if you hear ringing in your ears or your ears begin to ache.
  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
  • Many smart devices let you lower the max volume so you won’t even have to worry about it.
  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, specifically earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally occurs gradually over time not immediately. The majority of the time people don’t even detect that it’s occurring 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 irreversible. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never recover.

The damage is hardly noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. NHIL can be difficult to detect as a result. It might be getting gradually worse, all the while, you believe it’s perfectly fine.

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

This means prevention is the most useful approach

This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. Here are a few ways to keep listening to your earbuds while lowering your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:

  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.
  • When you’re not using your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. Avoid excessively loud environments whenever you can.
  • Use volume-controlling apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re wearing. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones sometimes. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. With this feature, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite as loud.
  • Make regular visits with us to have your hearing tested. We will help establish the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.

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

So… are earbuds the enemy?

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

But your approach could need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You may not even realize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

If you believe you may have damage because of 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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