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 wash 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 substantially.

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

So when you finally find or buy a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people use them.

But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your hearing because so many people use them for so many listening activities. Your hearing could be in jeopardy if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.

Why earbuds are unique

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to use a bulky, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That isn’t necessarily the situation anymore. Awesome sound quality can be created in a really small space with contemporary earbuds. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (At present, you don’t see that as much).

In part because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they started showing up everywhere. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the primary ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are practical in a number of contexts because of their dependability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of individuals use them basically all of the time consequently. And that’s become a bit of an issue.

It’s all vibrations

Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just waves of moving air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of translating those vibrations, grouping one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

In this endeavor, your brain receives a big assist from your inner ear. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At this stage, you have 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. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is exactly the same.

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage due to loud noise is fairly widespread. 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:

  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Repeated subjection increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might present greater risks than using regular headphones. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive components of your 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 an issue besides volume

Perhaps you think there’s an easy solution: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just reduce the volume. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.

The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the issue, 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:

  • Many smart devices let you reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings enabled. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume goes a little too high. Of course, then it’s your job 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.
  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Stop listening right away if you hear 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.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, specifically earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally happens slowly over time not suddenly. Most of the time people don’t even recognize that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

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

The damage accumulates gradually over time, and it usually starts as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL difficult to recognize. It might be getting gradually worse, all the while, you believe it’s just fine.

Unfortunately, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can minimize the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. But the total damage that’s being done, sadly, is permanent.

This means prevention is the best strategy

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

  • Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not wearing earbuds. Avoid excessively loud settings whenever you can.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t need to crank the volume quite so loud in order to hear your media clearly.
  • Use multiple types of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones now and then. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • If you do have to go into an extremely loud setting, use ear protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
  • Schedule regular visits with us to get your hearing examined. We will help establish the general health of your hearing by having you screened.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do wind up requiring treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the trash? 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. You might not even realize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, regulate the volume, that’s the first step. 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 tested now!

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