Could Earbuds be Harming Your Hearing?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, maybe, accidentally left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the washer and dryer?) Now it’s so boring going for a jog in the morning. Your commute or bus 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 you’re so happy when you finally get a working set of earbuds. 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.

Unfortunately, in part because they’re so easy and so widely used, earbuds present some significant risks for your ears. Your hearing might be in danger if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Why earbuds are different

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a heavy, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That isn’t always the situation anymore. Awesome sound quality can be produced in a really small space with modern earbuds. They were popularized by smartphone manufacturers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smart device sold all through the 2010s (Presently, you don’t see that as much).

These little earbuds (frequently they even include microphones) started to show up everywhere because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to tunes, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the chief ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are practical in a number of contexts because of their reliability, portability, and convenience. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time consequently. And that’s become somewhat of an issue.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Essentially, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of interpreting 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 vibrate when subjected to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really identifies these vibrations. At that point, there’s a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what allows your brain to make heads or tails of it all.

It’s not what kind of sound but volume that results in hearing loss. Which means the risk is equivalent whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is very prevalent. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

Using earbuds can increase your danger of:

  • Continued subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Experiencing social isolation or mental decline as a result of hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
  • Needing to use 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 may be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.

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

It isn’t simply volume, it’s duration, as well

You might be thinking, well, the fix 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. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as harmful as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Lower the volume.)
  • If you don’t want to think about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings turned on. If your listening volume gets too high, a warning will alert you. Naturally, then it’s your job to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones generally, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen suddenly; it progresses gradually and over time. Which means, you might not even observe it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.

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

Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreparably destroyed because of noise).

The damage accumulates gradually over time, and it normally begins as very limited in scope. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s gradually getting worse and worse.

There is presently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. However, there are treatments designed to offset and minimize some of the most significant effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent 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

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a significant focus on prevention. Here are several ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while lowering your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Schedule routine visits with us to have your hearing checked. We will be able to help you get screened and track the general health of your hearing.
  • Use multiple kinds of headphones. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones sometimes. Try using over-the-ear headphones too.
  • Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling technology. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite so loud.
  • When you’re using your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Control the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you are not using earbuds. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • If you do have to go into an extremely noisy setting, use hearing protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.

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 need them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should find your nearest set of earbuds and chuck them in the garbage? Well, no. Particularly 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 think about changing your strategy. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, regulate 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!

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.