Could Earbuds be Damaging Your Ears?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, maybe, unintentionally left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the washer and dryer?) Suddenly, your morning jog is a million times more boring. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

Sometimes, you don’t grasp how valuable something is until you’ve lost it (yes, we are not being discreet 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 have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people utilize them.

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

Earbuds are different for several reasons

In previous years, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Modern earbuds can provide amazing 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 all through the 2010s (funny enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you purchase a new phone).

In part because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up everywhere. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the leading ways you’re talking on the phone, viewing your favorite program, or listening to tunes.

It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a large number of contexts. Lots of individuals use them basically all of the time as a result. And that’s become a bit of an issue.

It’s all vibrations

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re just air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of translating those vibrations, sorting one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. Inside of your ear are very small hairs called stereocilia that oscillate when subjected to sound. These are not big vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At this stage, there’s a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what lets your brain figure it all out.

It’s not what type of sound but volume that causes hearing damage. Which means the risk is the same whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is quite widespread. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.

Using earbuds can increase your risk of:

  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Experiencing social isolation or cognitive decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
  • Not being able to communicate with your family and friends without using a hearing aid.

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

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

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

Maybe you think there’s a simple solution: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply reduce the volume. Well… that would help. But it may not be the total solution.

This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. Modest volume for five hours can be just as harmful as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Enable volume alerts on your device. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn the volume down.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones in general, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop all of a sudden; it occurs slowly and over time. The majority of the time individuals don’t even realize that it’s happening until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.

The damage accumulates slowly over time, and it normally starts as very limited in scope. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. It may be getting gradually worse, in the meantime, you believe it’s perfectly fine.

There is currently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. Still, there are treatments created to offset and minimize some of the most significant 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

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a significant emphasis on prevention. And there are several ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud situations.
  • Use multiple kinds of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones sometimes. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. With this feature, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite so loud.
  • Use volume-restricting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work exceptionally well.
  • Schedule regular visits with us to get your hearing checked. We will help establish the general health of your hearing by getting you screened.

You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking actions to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately require them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

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

But your approach could need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You might not even recognize 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.

If you believe you might have damage because 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.