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 pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) Now it’s so boring going for a walk in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

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

So when you finally find or purchase a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is instantly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are all over the place nowadays, and individuals use them for so much more than simply listening to their favorite music (though, of course, they do that too).

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your hearing because so many people use them for so many listening activities. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in jeopardy!

Earbuds are unique for several reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a bulky, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That’s not always the situation now. Contemporary earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a tiny space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (funny enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even have microphones) started to show up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the chief ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their dependability, mobility, and convenience. Consequently, many consumers use them virtually all the time. That’s where things get a little tricky.

It’s all vibrations

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re simply air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. Your brain will then organize the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this endeavor, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. Inside of your ear are very small hairs called stereocilia that oscillate when subjected to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. At that point, there’s a nerve in your ear that converts 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 dangers of using earbuds?

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is quite prevalent. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.

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

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

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason might be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.

Either way, volume is the principal factor, and both kinds of headphones can deliver hazardous levels of that.

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You might be thinking, well, the solution is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply lower the volume. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.

The reason is that it’s not simply the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will damage your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours might also harm your ears.

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

  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Lower the volume.)
  • Some smart devices let you reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to worry about it.
  • Make sure that your device has volume level warnings enabled. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.
  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. It’s best to take frequent and lengthy breaks.
  • Stop listening immediately if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to ache.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, especially earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss usually occurs gradually over time not immediately. The majority of the time individuals don’t even detect that it’s happening until it’s too late.

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

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by overexposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.

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

Unfortunately, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can reduce the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists place a significant focus on prevention. Here are several ways to keep listening to your earbuds while reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Having your hearing checked by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be capable of hearing you get screened and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • When you’re using your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re using. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • If you do need to go into an extremely noisy setting, use ear protection. Wear earplugs, for instance.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling technology. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite so loud.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you protect your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do wind up requiring treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just throw my earbuds in the trash? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.

But your approach could need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. You might not even realize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Being aware of 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 right away.

Think you may have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get assessed now!

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