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 laundry or maybe lost them altogether? Suddenly, your morning jog is so much more boring. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers significantly.

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 pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is suddenly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds are all over the place these days, and people utilize them for a lot more than just listening to their favorite songs (though, obviously, they do that too).

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your ears because so many people use them for so many listening activities. Your hearing may be at risk if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are unique for a number of reasons

In previous years, you would need bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. All that has now changed. Incredible sound quality can be created in a very small space with modern earbuds. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re rather rare these days when you purchase a new phone).

In part because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up all over the place. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re taking calls, streaming your favorite show, or listening to music.

It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a large number of contexts. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time as a result. And that’s become somewhat of an issue.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re just air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the work of translating those vibrations, grouping one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

In this pursuit, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs known as stereocilia that oscillate when subjected to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At this stage, there’s a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what allows your brain to figure it all out.

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

The dangers of earbud use

The danger of hearing damage is prevalent because of the appeal of earbuds. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

Using earbuds can increase your risk of:

  • Developing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Going through social isolation or mental decline as a result of hearing loss.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
  • Repeated subjection increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason might be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t convinced.

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

It’s not simply volume, it’s duration, too

You might be thinking, well, the solution is simple: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Of course, this would be a smart idea. But it may not be the total answer.

The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Modest volume for five hours can be equally as damaging as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • Stop listening immediately if you experience ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • 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 task to reduce the volume.
  • Some smart devices let you lower the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, specifically earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss generally happens slowly over time not immediately. Which means, you may not even recognize it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

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

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

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

So the best plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists place a substantial focus on prevention. And there are several ways to decrease your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re using. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones once in a while. Try using over-the-ear headphones too.
  • Some headphones and earbuds include noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • If you do have to go into an extremely noisy environment, use ear protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
  • Getting your hearing tested by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get screened and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • Control the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud scenarios.

You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking measures to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. And, if you do end up requiring treatment, such as hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should find your nearest set of earbuds and throw them in the trash? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get 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 notice it. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

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

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

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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.
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