Can Your Hearing be Harmed by Earbuds?

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 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 your virtual meetings are suffering from poor audio quality.

Sometimes, you don’t grasp how valuable something is until you’ve lost it (yes, we are not being subtle around here today).

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are everywhere right now, and people utilize them for so much more than only listening to their favorite songs (though, obviously, they do that too).

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

Earbuds are unique for numerous reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a heavy, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Modern earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a very small space. They were popularized by smartphone makers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re rather rare nowadays when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even have microphones) started to show up everywhere because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to tunes, 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 quite a few contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. Because of this, many people use them virtually all the time. And that’s become somewhat of an issue.

It’s all vibrations

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all basically the same thing. They’re just waves of moving air molecules. Your brain will then sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. 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. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are transformed into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.

This is important because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing loss, it’s volume. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is the same.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage due to loud noise is quite prevalent. 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:

  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with friends and loved ones.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.

Besides, what’s more important is the volume, and any pair of headphones is capable of delivering dangerous levels of sound.

It’s not only volume, it’s duration, as well

Perhaps you think there’s an easy fix: I’ll just lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes straight. Well… that would help. 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. Think about it like this: listening at max volume for five minutes will damage your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours could also harm your ears.

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

  • Give yourself lots of breaks. It’s best to take frequent and lengthy breaks.
  • Some smart devices let you lower the max volume so you won’t even have to worry about it.
  • Make sure that your device has volume level alerts turned on. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume gets a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to lower the volume.
  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn the volume down.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Stop listening right away if you experience ringing in your ears or your ears begin to ache.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones generally, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) develop all of a sudden; it progresses gradually and over time. The majority of the time individuals don’t even detect that it’s happening until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreparably destroyed because of noise).

The damage is barely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses slowly over time. NHIL can be difficult to identify as a result. It may be getting slowly worse, all the while, you think it’s just fine.

There is currently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. However, there are treatments designed to mitigate and reduce some of the most considerable effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t counter the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal plan is prevention

This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. Here are a few ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while lowering your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Getting your hearing tested by us routinely is a good plan. We will be capable of hearing you get tested and track the overall health of your hearing.
  • If you do have to go into an overly noisy environment, utilize ear protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
  • Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling technology. This will mean you won’t need to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. Avoid exceedingly loud environments whenever possible.
  • Use other types of headphones. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones once in a while. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones also.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.

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

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just toss my earbuds in the garbage? Well, no. Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are not cheap!

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you may want to consider altering your strategy. These earbuds could be harming your hearing and you may not even realize it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, regulate the volume, that’s the first step. The second step is to consult with us about the state of your hearing today.

If you think you might have damage as a result of 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.