Can Your Hearing be Damaged by Earbuds?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever forgotten your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the laundry or maybe lost them altogether? Suddenly, 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 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 set of earbuds. The world is suddenly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds are everywhere nowadays, and people use them for so much more than simply listening to their favorite tunes (though, naturally, they do that too).

But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some significant risks to your hearing because so many people are using them for so many listening tasks. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you may be putting your hearing in danger!

Earbuds are different for a number of reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a bulky, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). All that has now changed. Modern earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a tiny space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re somewhat rare nowadays when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (frequently they even include microphones) began showing up all over the place because they were so high-quality and available. 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.

It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a wide variety of contexts. Lots of people use them basically all of the time consequently. And that’s become a bit of an issue.

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 air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. Your brain will then organize 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 called stereocilia that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re very small. Your inner ear is what actually identifies these vibrations. At that point, you have a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what allows your brain to figure it all out.

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

What are the risks of using earbuds?

The danger of hearing damage is widespread because of the appeal 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 utilize earbuds at high volume, you raise your risk of:

  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.
  • Going through social isolation or mental decline as a result of hearing loss.
  • Advancing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds may present greater risks than using regular headphones. 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 sure.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You might be thinking, well, the fix is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply reduce the volume. Obviously, this would be a smart idea. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours could also damage your ears.

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

  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn the volume down.
  • Make sure that your device has volume level alerts enabled. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume gets a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.
  • Stop listening immediately if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Take regular breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones generally, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally occurs slowly over time not immediately. Which means, you may not even recognize it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

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

The damage is barely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and develops gradually over time. NHIL can be difficult to detect as a result. You might think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it’s slowly getting worse and worse.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. However, there are treatments created to offset and minimize some of the most considerable effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the total damage that’s being done, sadly, is irreversible.

This means prevention is the most useful approach

That’s why so many hearing specialists place a substantial emphasis on prevention. Here are a few ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while decreasing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:

  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Use other types of headphones. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones sometimes. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • Schedule regular visits with us to have your hearing examined. We will help establish the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Use earplugs, for example.

You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking measures 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?

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

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

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. Step two is to talk to us about the state of your hearing today.

If you believe you might 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.