Could Earbuds be Harming Your Hearing?

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 train ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad audio quality.

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. Now your life is full of perfectly clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are everywhere right now, and people utilize them for so much more than simply listening to their favorite songs (though, obviously, they do that too).

Regrettably, partly because they are so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some substantial risks for your hearing. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you may be putting your hearing in danger!

Earbuds are unique for several reasons

In previous years, you would need bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. That’s all now changed. Modern earbuds can supply fantastic sound in a very small space. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smart device sold all through the 2010s (At present, you don’t find that so much).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even have microphones) began showing up everywhere because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite program, or listening to music.

Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of individuals use them pretty much all of the time as a result. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re simply air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of translating 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 very small hairs called stereocilia that oscillate when subjected 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’re transformed into electrical impulses 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.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

The danger of hearing damage is widespread because of the appeal of earbuds. 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:

  • Needing to use a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
  • Developing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Experiencing social isolation or mental decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
  • Continued exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason might be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive components 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 an issue besides volume

Perhaps you think there’s a simple fix: I’ll just lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as harmful as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn the volume down.
  • Quit listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to hurt.
  • Take frequent breaks. It’s best to take frequent and lengthy breaks.
  • Many smart devices let you reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to worry about it.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Enable volume warnings on your device. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume gets a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones generally, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss usually occurs gradually over time not suddenly. Which means, you may not even recognize it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.

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

Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is typically irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreversibly damaged because of noise).

The damage accumulates slowly over time, and it normally starts as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL hard to recognize. It might be getting progressively worse, all the while, you think it’s perfectly fine.

Sadly, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. 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.

So the ideal strategy is prevention

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

  • Switch up the types of headphones you’re using. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones sometimes. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
  • Getting your hearing checked by us regularly is a good plan. We will help identify the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • 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.
  • Use volume-restricting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. With this feature, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite as loud.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Ear plugs, for example, work quite well.

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

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the rubbish? Not Exactly! Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are expensive!

But your strategy could need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. These earbuds could be harming your hearing and you may not even realize it. Your best defense, then, is being aware of 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 may have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get assessed now!

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.