Could Earbuds be Damaging Your Hearing?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever left your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the wash or maybe lost them altogether? Now it’s so boring going for a jog in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor audio quality.

Sometimes, you don’t realize how valuable something is until you have to live without it (yes, we are not being subtle around here today).

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. Now your world is full of completely clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of individuals utilize them.

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some significant risks to your ears because so many people are using them for so many listening tasks. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you could be putting your hearing at risk!

Earbuds are unique for a number of reasons

In the past, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not always the situation now. Contemporary earbuds can supply stunning sound in a very small space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Currently, you don’t see that as much).

Partly because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they began showing up all over the place. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to tunes, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the chief ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and dependability that makes earbuds useful in a wide variety of contexts. Lots of people use them basically all of the time consequently. And that’s become a bit of a problem.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

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

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

This is significant 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 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.

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

  • Experiencing social isolation or cognitive decline due to hearing loss.
  • Continued subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being able to communicate with your family and friends without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might introduce greater risks than using conventional headphones. The reason may be that earbuds move 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 biggest consideration, and both kinds of headphones can create hazardous levels of that.

Duration is also a concern besides volume

You may be thinking, well, the fix is simple: I’ll simply lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes straight. Naturally, this would be a good plan. But it may not be the total 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 harm your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours could also harm your ears.

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

  • Enable volume alerts on your device. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume goes a bit too high. Naturally, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.
  • Stop listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to hurt.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones in general, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss typically happens slowly over time not immediately. Which means, you might not even notice it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

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

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

The damage accumulates slowly over time, and it usually begins as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL hard to detect. You may think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it’s slowly getting worse and worse.

There is currently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. Still, there are treatments designed to mitigate and minimize some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to reverse the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the most useful strategy

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

  • When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling technology. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.
  • If you do need to go into an overly loud environment, use hearing protection. Wear earplugs, for instance.
  • Use multiple types of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones sometimes. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • Schedule routine visits with us to get your hearing examined. We will be capable of hearing you get tested and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you are not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud scenarios.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do eventually require them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the rubbish? 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 regularly, you might want to think about varying your strategy. These earbuds could be harming your hearing and you may not even realize it. Your best defense, then, is knowing about the danger.

When you listen, regulate the volume, that’s the first step. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

If you believe you might have damage due to 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.