Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, maybe, inadvertently left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) Now it’s so boring going for a walk in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

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

So when you finally find or buy a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals use them.

Regrettably, partly because they’re so easy and so common, earbuds present some substantial risks for your hearing. Your hearing might be in danger if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Why earbuds are unique

In the past, you would require cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That isn’t necessarily the case now. Modern earbuds can supply fantastic sound in a tiny space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Presently, you don’t find that so much).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even include microphones) started to show up everywhere because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re talking on the phone, viewing your favorite program, or listening to music.

Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their dependability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time consequently. That’s where things get a bit challenging.

It’s all vibrations

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

In this endeavor, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs known as stereocilia that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re converted into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

This is significant 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 exactly the same.

The dangers of earbud use

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.

On an individual level, when you use earbuds at high volume, you increase your risk of:

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

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are convinced.

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

It’s not simply volume, it’s duration, also

You may be thinking, well, the fix is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just lower the volume. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Modest 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 allow you to reduce the max volume so you won’t even have to worry about it.
  • 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 up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • 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.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, particularly earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) happen all of a sudden; it occurs gradually and over time. Which means, you may not even observe it occurring, at least, not 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 permanent. 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 builds up slowly over time, and it usually starts as very limited in scope. NHIL can be difficult to detect as a result. It might be getting gradually worse, all the while, you believe it’s just fine.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can minimize the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the best approach

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

  • Use multiple kinds of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones once in a while. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling technology. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • Getting your hearing tested by us routinely is a good plan. We will be capable of hearing you get assessed and monitor the general health of your hearing.
  • Use volume-restricting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • When you’re not using your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud scenarios.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Wear earplugs, for instance.

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 need them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just throw my earbuds in the garbage? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.

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

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. But speaking with us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

If you believe you might have damage due to overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!

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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.
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