Audio Life Hearing Center- Knoxville, TN

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 jog in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers significantly.

The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies here.

So you’re so happy when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. The world is suddenly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds are everywhere these days, and people use them for a lot more than simply listening to their favorite music (though, naturally, they do that too).

Unfortunately, in part because they are so easy and so common, earbuds present some substantial risks for your ears. Your hearing could be at risk if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.

Why earbuds are different

In previous years, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. That’s all now changed. Contemporary earbuds can provide stunning 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 (Currently, you don’t find that as much).

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

It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a large number of contexts. Lots of individuals use them basically all of the time as a result. And that’s become somewhat of an issue.

It’s all vibrations

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially 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 very small hairs called stereocilia that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At that point, there’s a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what allows your brain to make heads or tails of it all.

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 the same.

The risks of earbud use

The risk 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 risk of:

  • Developing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Continued exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might present greater risks than using regular headphones. The idea here is that the sound is directed toward the more sensitive components of your ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.

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

It’s not just volume, it’s duration, also

Maybe you think there’s an easy solution: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, 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 only the volume that’s the issue, it’s the duration. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours could also damage your ears.

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

  • Stop listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to hurt.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings turned on. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume goes a bit too high. Naturally, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn down the volume.
  • Many smart devices allow you to reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, particularly earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss generally 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 permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreparably damaged due to noise).

The damage builds up slowly over time, and it normally starts as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL difficult to recognize. It might be getting progressively worse, in the meantime, you believe it’s perfectly fine.

There is presently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. However, there are treatments designed to mitigate and minimize some of the most considerable effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal plan is prevention

This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. And there are a number of ways to decrease your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • Having your hearing checked by us routinely is a smart plan. We will be capable of hearing you get screened and track the overall health of your hearing.
  • Some headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • When you’re not wearing 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 steering clear of overly loud situations.
  • Use other types of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • If you do need to go into an overly loud environment, utilize hearing protection. Wear earplugs, for example.

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 eventually require them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

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

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you might want to think about altering your approach. These earbuds could be damaging your hearing and you might not even recognize it. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

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

Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested now!

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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.
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