Can Your Hearing be Harmed by Earbuds?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, unintentionally left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) Suddenly, your morning jog is so much more boring. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

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

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals use them.

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

Why earbuds are unique

In previous years, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. That’s all now changed. Contemporary earbuds can supply fantastic sound in a very small space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you buy a new phone).

These little earbuds (frequently they even have microphones) started to show up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to tunes, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

It’s that combination of convenience, portability, and dependability that makes earbuds useful in a large number of contexts. Lots of individuals use them pretty much all of the time consequently. And that’s become a bit of a problem.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

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

Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. Inside of your ear are very small hairs known as stereocilia that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At that point, there’s a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what lets your brain figure it all out.

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 program.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

The risk of hearing damage is prevalent because of the popularity of earbuds. 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 due to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Experiencing social isolation or mental decline due to hearing loss.
  • Continued exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.

There might 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 parts 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.

Duration is also a concern besides volume

Perhaps you think there’s a simple solution: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes straight. Of course, this would be a smart idea. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours could also damage your ears.

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

  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)
  • Make sure that your device has volume level alerts enabled. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Naturally, then it’s your job to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones generally, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss typically occurs slowly over time not suddenly. Most of the time people don’t even notice that it’s happening until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

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

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

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can minimize the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, are not able to counter the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the best strategy

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a substantial emphasis on prevention. Here are some ways to keep listening to your earbuds while lowering your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Ear plugs, for example, work exceptionally well.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. With this feature, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite as loud.
  • Schedule regular visits with us to get your hearing checked. We will help identify the general health of your hearing by having you screened.
  • When you’re not using your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Use multiple types of headphones. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones as well.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you preserve 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 garbage? Well, no. Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are not cheap!

But your strategy 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 control the volume and duration of your listening. The second step is to consult with us about the state of your hearing right away.

If you think you might have damage because of overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!

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.