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? Now it’s so boring going for a walk in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

Sometimes, 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. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people utilize them.

Unfortunately, in part because they are so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some substantial risks for your hearing. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you may be putting your hearing at risk!

Earbuds are different for numerous reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a set of headphones, you’d have to use a heavy, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). All that has now changed. Awesome 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 (Presently, you don’t find that as much).

These little earbuds (sometimes 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 main ways you’re taking calls, streaming your favorite program, or listening to tunes.

Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their reliability, portability, and convenience. As a result, many consumers use them pretty much all the time. And that’s become somewhat 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 classify the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this pursuit, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not large vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are converted into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.

This is important 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.

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.

On an individual level, when you utilize earbuds at high volume, you increase your danger of:

  • Experiencing social isolation or mental decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
  • Advancing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The idea 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 convinced.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You may be thinking, well, the solution is simple: I’ll just lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes straight. Well… that would be helpful. 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. Modest volume for five hours can be just as harmful as top volume for five minutes.

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

  • Be certain that your device has volume level alerts enabled. If your listening volume gets too high, a warning will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
  • Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Lower the volume.)
  • Many smart devices allow you to decrease the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • Take frequent breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Stop listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones generally, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss usually occurs slowly over time not immediately. The majority of the time people don’t even realize that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreparably destroyed due to noise).

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

Sadly, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can reduce the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, can’t counter the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal strategy is prevention

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

  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re using. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones now and then. Try using over-the-ear headphones also.
  • Many headphones and earbuds incorporate noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. With this feature, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite so loud.
  • Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • If you do need to go into an overly loud setting, use ear protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.
  • Getting your hearing tested by us routinely is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get assessed and track the overall health of your hearing.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you are not using earbuds. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud scenarios.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do end up requiring treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the trash? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get expensive.

But your strategy could need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. These earbuds could be harming your hearing and you might not even recognize it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, reduce the volume, that’s the first step. The second step is to consult with us about the state of your hearing right away.

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

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