Can Your Hearing be Harmed by Earbuds?

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 laundry or maybe lost them altogether? Now it’s so boring going for a walk in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad audio quality.

Often, 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 purchase a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is suddenly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are everywhere right now, and people utilize them for a lot more than simply listening to their favorite songs (though, naturally, they do that too).

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

Earbuds are different for numerous reasons

In previous years, 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 tiny space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare nowadays when you buy a new phone).

Partly because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up everywhere. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the chief 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 consequently. And that’s become somewhat of a problem.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re just waves of vibrating air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the work of translating those vibrations, sorting one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not large vibrations, they’re very small. Your inner ear is what actually identifies these vibrations. At this stage, there’s a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what lets your brain make heads or tails of it all.

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

What are the risks of using earbuds?

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage due to loud noise is very prevalent. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

Using earbuds can increase your risk of:

  • Repeated exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Not being able to communicate with your friends and family without using a hearing aid.
  • Advancing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason might be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.

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

Duration is also a concern besides volume

Maybe you think there’s a simple solution: I’ll simply lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Well… that would be helpful. But it may not be the total answer.

The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Modest volume for five hours can be just as damaging as top volume for five minutes.

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

  • Make sure that your device has volume level alerts turned on. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Naturally, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones in general, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen suddenly; it occurs slowly and over time. Which means, you may not even acknowledge 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 typically permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreparably damaged due to noise).

The damage accumulates slowly over time, and it usually starts as very limited in scope. NHIL can be difficult to detect as a result. You might think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s gradually getting worse and worse.

There is currently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can reduce the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, are not able to counter the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a considerable focus on prevention. And there are multiple ways to lower your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while using your earbuds:

  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re using. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
  • Use volume-controlling apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Getting your hearing checked by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be capable of hearing you get tested and monitor the general health of your hearing.
  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not using earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud scenarios.
  • Some headphones and earbuds include noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. This will mean you won’t need to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • If you do have to go into an overly loud setting, use hearing protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.

You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking measures to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. And, if you do wind up needing treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

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

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

When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

Think you may have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get assessed now!

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.