Could Earbuds be Damaging Your Ears?

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? Now it’s so boring going for a run in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad audio quality.

Sometimes, 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 set of earbuds, you’re thankful. Now your life is full of perfectly clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are all over the place nowadays, and people use them for a lot more than simply listening to their favorite music (though, of course, they do that too).

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

Earbuds are unique for numerous reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a pair of headphones, you’d have to use a heavy, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). All that has now changed. 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 basically every smartphone sold all through the 2010s (Presently, you don’t see that as much).

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 talking on the phone, viewing your favorite show, or listening to music.

It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a wide variety of contexts. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time consequently. That’s where things get a bit challenging.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all basically the same thing. They’re just waves of vibrating air molecules. Your brain will then organize 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 vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually recognizes these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re converted into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

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 the same.

The risks of earbud use

The danger of hearing damage is widespread because of the appeal of earbuds. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.

Using earbuds can increase your danger of:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Experiencing social isolation or mental decline due to hearing loss.
  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds might present greater risks than using regular headphones. The reason might be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t sure.

Either way, volume is the primary factor, and both kinds of headphones can deliver hazardous levels of that.

Duration is also an issue besides volume

Maybe you think there’s an easy solution: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply reduce the volume. Of course, this would be a smart idea. But it may not be the complete answer.

The reason is that it’s not only the volume that’s the issue, it’s the duration. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as harmful as top volume for five minutes.

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

  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Enable volume warnings on your device. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume gets a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones in general, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally occurs slowly over time not suddenly. Which means, you might not even notice 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 accumulates slowly over time, and it normally begins as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL hard to recognize. It may be getting slowly worse, all the while, you believe it’s just fine.

Unfortunately, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments created to mitigate and reduce some of the most considerable effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to reverse the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the best approach

This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. Here are several ways to keep listening to your earbuds while reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. Avoid overly loud environments whenever possible.
  • Make regular visits with us to get your hearing tested. We will be capable of hearing you get tested and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • Change up the types of headphones you’re using. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones now and then. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones also.
  • Use volume-controlling apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Use hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Ear plugs, for example, work remarkably well.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. With this feature, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite so loud.

You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking steps to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. 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 toss my earbuds in the garbage? Not Exactly! Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are expensive!

But your strategy could need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. These earbuds may be damaging your hearing and you may not even recognize it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

Step one is to control the volume and duration of your listening. The second step is to talk to us about the state of your hearing right away.

If you believe you may have damage caused by 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.