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? Suddenly, your morning jog is a million times more boring. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

Often, you don’t realize 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 set of earbuds, you’re thankful. Now your life is full of completely clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of individuals use them.

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

Why earbuds are unique

In the past, you would require cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. All that has now changed. Awesome sound quality can be produced in a really small space with contemporary earbuds. They were popularized by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (Presently, you don’t see that so much).

These little earbuds (frequently they even have microphones) began showing up all over the place because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, 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, mobility, and convenience. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time as a result. That’s where things get a little tricky.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

In essence, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. Your brain will then classify the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this endeavor, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. Inside of your ear are very small hairs known as stereocilia that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really identifies these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re transformed into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

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

The risks of earbud use

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is quite widespread. 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 risk of:

  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Developing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.
  • Experiencing social isolation or mental decline as a consequence of hearing loss.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might present greater risks than using regular headphones. The thinking here is that the sound is directed toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are convinced.

Besides, what’s more relevant is the volume, and any set of headphones is capable of delivering hazardous levels of sound.

Duration is also a concern besides volume

Perhaps you think there’s an easy solution: I’ll simply lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Well… that would be helpful. But there’s more to it than that.

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

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

  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Activate volume alerts on your device. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume goes a bit too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to lower the volume.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Take regular breaks. It’s best to take frequent and extended breaks.
  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down 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.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, especially earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop all of a sudden; it progresses slowly and over time. Which means, you may not even acknowledge it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

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

Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by overexposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.

The damage is scarcely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. It might be getting gradually worse, in the meantime, you believe it’s just fine.

There is presently 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 prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to counter the damage that’s been done.

So the best strategy is prevention

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

  • Schedule regular visits with us to get your hearing examined. We will help establish the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Use other types of headphones. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones sometimes. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling technology. This will mean you won’t need to crank the volume quite so loud in order to hear your media clearly.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, reduce the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud scenarios.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for example, work remarkably well.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you safeguard your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do end 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? Well, no. Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!

But your approach may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. But speaking with us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

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

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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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