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? All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

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

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. Now your world is full of completely clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. 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 ears because so many people use them for so many listening tasks. Your hearing could be in danger if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are different for numerous reasons

In previous years, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That isn’t necessarily the case now. Contemporary earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a tiny space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Presently, you don’t see that as much).

Partly because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up everywhere. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the primary ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

It’s that mixture of convenience, mobility, and reliability that makes earbuds practical in a wide variety of contexts. Because of this, many consumers use them almost all the time. And that’s become a bit of an issue.

It’s all vibrations

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

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. There are tiny hairs along your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really recognizes these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re transformed into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

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

The dangers of earbud use

The danger 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.

On an individual level, when you utilize earbuds at high volume, you raise your danger of:

  • Repeated subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being able to communicate with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Advancing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may introduce greater risks than using conventional headphones. The idea here is that the sound is directed toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t sure.

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

Duration is also a concern besides volume

You might be thinking, well, the solution is simple: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply reduce the volume. Well… that would help. But it might not be the complete solution.

This is because how long you listen is as important as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at max volume for five minutes will damage your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours might also damage your ears.

When you listen, here are some ways to keep it safer:

  • Many smart devices let you decrease the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings enabled. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume gets a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to lower the volume.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn down the volume.
  • Stop listening immediately if you experience ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, particularly earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop all of a sudden; it occurs slowly and over time. Which means, you might not even recognize it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

There’s no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss

Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreversibly damaged because of noise).

The damage is scarcely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses slowly over time. NHIL can be difficult to detect as a result. It may be getting gradually worse, all the while, you think it’s just fine.

Unfortunately, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. Still, there are treatments designed to mitigate and minimize some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t counter the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the most useful strategy

This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. And there are multiple ways to lower your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. With this function, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite as loud.
  • Use other types of headphones. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Control the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you’re not wearing earbuds. Avoid exceedingly loud environments whenever possible.
  • Schedule routine visits with us to get your hearing checked. We will be able to help you get assessed and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • If you do have to go into an overly loud setting, utilize ear protection. Ear plugs, for example, work exceptionally well.

You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking steps 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 grab your nearest set of earbuds and throw them in the trash? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds on a regular basis, you might want to consider varying your approach. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is knowing about the danger.

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

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.