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 laundry or maybe lost them altogether? Now it’s so boring going for a walk in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies here.

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of people utilize them.

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

Earbuds are unique for a number of reasons

In previous years, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. That isn’t necessarily the case anymore. Contemporary earbuds can provide amazing sound in a very small space. 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 (funny enough, they’re rather rare these days when you buy a new phone).

These little earbuds (frequently they even include microphones) began showing up everywhere because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of people use them basically all of the time consequently. That’s where things get a little challenging.

It’s all vibrations

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

Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. There are tiny hairs along your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really recognizes 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 damage. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is exactly the same.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage due to loud noise is very 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 danger of:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
  • Going through social isolation or cognitive decline due to hearing loss.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Repeated subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason may be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.

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

It isn’t just volume, it’s duration, too

Maybe 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 straight. Well… that would be helpful. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be equally as damaging as top volume for five minutes.

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

  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • Quit listening immediately if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to hurt.
  • If you don’t want to think about it, you might even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings enabled. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to lower the volume.
  • 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.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones generally, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss typically happens slowly over time not suddenly. Most of the time people don’t even detect that it’s happening 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. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreversibly destroyed due to noise).

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

Unfortunately, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. Still, there are treatments designed to mitigate and reduce some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the most useful approach

This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. And there are multiple ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • Change up the styles of headphones you’re using. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones now and then. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • When you’re using your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.
  • Some headphones and earbuds include noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. With this feature, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without needing to crank it up quite as loud.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you are not using earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud situations.
  • Getting your hearing tested by us regularly is a good plan. We will help identify the general health of your hearing by getting you screened.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly 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?

So does all this mean you should grab your nearest pair of earbuds and throw them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are not cheap!

But your approach may need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds could be harming your hearing and you might not even notice it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

Step one is to control the volume and duration of your listening. Step two is to talk to 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.