Could Earbuds be Damaging Your Ears?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, maybe, accidentally left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor sound quality.

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

So when you finally find or purchase a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. Now your life is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are everywhere nowadays, and individuals use them for so much more than simply listening to their favorite songs (though, of course, they do that too).

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your ears because so many people are using them for so many listening tasks. Your hearing might be at risk if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are different for numerous reasons

In the past, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not necessarily the situation now. Modern earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a very small space. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you buy a new phone).

In part because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they began showing up all over the place. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to tunes, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are practical in quite a few contexts because of their dependability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of individuals use them basically all of the time consequently. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

It’s all vibrations

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

Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs known as stereocilia that oscillate when subjected to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are converted into electrical signals 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 the same.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

The danger of hearing damage is prevalent because of the popularity of earbuds. 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:

  • Experiencing social isolation or mental decline as a result of hearing loss.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
  • Repeated exposure increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might introduce greater risks than using conventional 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.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

Maybe you think there’s an easy fix: I’ll simply turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes in a row. Obviously, this would be a good plan. But it might not be the total answer.

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 some ways to make it safer:

  • Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Reduce the volume.)
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • Stop listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
  • Make sure that your device has volume level alerts turned on. If your listening volume goes too high, a warning will alert you. Naturally, then it’s your job to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, specifically earbuds. So give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop all of a sudden; it occurs gradually and over time. Most of the time people don’t even notice that it’s happening until it’s too late.

There’s no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss

Typically, 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 recover.

The damage accumulates gradually over time, and it usually starts as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL hard to detect. It may be getting slowly worse, in the meantime, you think it’s just fine.

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

This means prevention is the best strategy

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

  • Some headphones and earbuds incorporate noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this feature, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite so loud.
  • Getting your hearing checked by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be capable of hearing you get tested and track the general health of your hearing.
  • Use multiple types of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones now and then. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • If you do need to go into an extremely loud setting, use hearing protection. Ear plugs, for example, work remarkably well.
  • Use volume-controlling apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud situations.

You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking steps to prevent hearing loss, especially NHIL. And, if you do wind up requiring treatment, such as hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should grab your nearest set of earbuds and chuck them in the garbage? Well, no. Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are not cheap!

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds on a regular basis, you might want to consider varying your approach. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, reduce the volume, that’s the first step. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

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.