Could Earbuds be Harming 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 wash or maybe lost them altogether? Suddenly, your morning jog is so much more boring. 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’ve lost it (yes, we are not being discreet around here today).

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. Now your life is full of perfectly clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people use them.

Regrettably, partly because they’re so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some significant risks for your hearing. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in jeopardy!

Why earbuds are unique

In previous years, you would need bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That isn’t always the situation now. Incredible sound quality can be created in a really small space with contemporary earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re rather rare these days when you buy a new phone).

In part because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they started showing up all over the place. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are practical in a number of contexts because of their dependability, portability, and convenience. Lots of individuals use them pretty much all of the time as a result. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

It’s all vibrations

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

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re very small. Your inner ear is what actually identifies these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are transformed into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.

It’s not what kind of sound but volume that results in hearing damage. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is the same.

The risks of earbud use

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage due to loud noise is pretty prevalent. 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 danger of:

  • Repeated subjection increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.
  • Developing deafness due to 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 directed toward the more sensitive components of your ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t convinced.

Besides, what’s more important is the volume, and any set of headphones is able to deliver dangerous levels of sound.

Duration is also an issue besides volume

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

The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the issue, it’s the duration. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will damage your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours might also damage your ears.

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

  • If you don’t want to think about it, you may even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Make sure that your device has volume level warnings enabled. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume goes a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones generally, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) develop suddenly; it progresses slowly and over time. The majority of the time people don’t even notice that it’s happening until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Usually, 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 recover.

The damage is barely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. That can make NIHL hard to recognize. It might be getting gradually worse, in the meantime, you believe it’s perfectly fine.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. Still, there are treatments designed 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, are not able to reverse the damage that’s been done.

So the best plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a significant emphasis on prevention. Here are some ways to keep listening to your earbuds while reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Schedule regular visits with us to get your hearing checked. We will be able to help you get tested and monitor the general health of your hearing.
  • Switch up the types of headphones you’re wearing. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • If you do have to go into an overly loud environment, use ear protection. Use earplugs, for example.
  • Many headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to use those. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.
  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you’re not using earbuds. Avoid exceedingly loud settings whenever you can.

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

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

But your approach could need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds could be damaging your hearing and you might not even recognize it. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

Step one is to control the volume and duration of your listening. The second step is to speak with us about the state of your hearing today.

If you think 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.

Questions? Talk To Us.