Can Your Ears be Harmed by Earbuds?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, maybe, accidentally 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 audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

Often, you don’t realize how valuable something is until you’ve lost it (yes, we are not being subtle around here today).

So when you finally find or purchase a working set of earbuds, you’re grateful. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals utilize them.

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

Why earbuds are different

In the past, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s all now changed. Contemporary earbuds can supply fantastic sound in a very small space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (At present, you don’t find that so much).

In part because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they began showing up all over the place. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite show, or listening to music.

It’s that mixture of convenience, mobility, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a large number of contexts. Lots of people use them basically all of the time as a result. That’s where things get a bit challenging.

It’s all vibrations

Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of interpreting those vibrations, sorting one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

In this activity, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. 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.

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

The dangers of earbud use

The danger of hearing damage is widespread 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:

  • Developing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.
  • Continued exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may introduce greater risks than using conventional headphones. The reason might be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are convinced.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You might be thinking, well, the solution is simple: I’ll just lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes straight. Of course, this would be a smart plan. 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.

So here’s how you can be a little 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 might even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • It’s a good idea 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 minutes? Lower the volume.)
  • Activate volume alerts on your device. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Naturally, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • Take frequent 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 gradually and over time. Which means, you might not even observe it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

There’s no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss

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

The damage builds up gradually over time, and it normally begins as very limited in scope. NHIL can be difficult to detect as a result. It might be getting slowly worse, in the meantime, you believe it’s just fine.

There is presently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. Still, there are treatments created to mitigate and minimize some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to counter the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the most useful strategy

That’s why so many hearing specialists place a significant emphasis on prevention. And there are multiple ways to lower your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • Getting your hearing checked by us routinely is a good plan. We will help establish the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • When you’re not using your earbuds, reduce the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re wearing. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • Some headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite as loud.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Wear earplugs, for instance.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do eventually need them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

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

But your strategy may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You may not even realize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

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

If you think you may have damage due to 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.