Have you ever forgotten 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 jog in the morning. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers significantly.
Often, you don’t realize how valuable something is until you have to live without it (yes, we are not being discreet around here today).
So when you finally find or buy a working pair of earbuds, you’re grateful. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds are all over the place these days, and individuals use them for a lot more than only listening to their favorite songs (though, of course, they do that too).
Regrettably, in part because they are so easy and so common, earbuds present some considerable risks for your hearing. Your hearing may be at risk if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.
Earbuds are different for a number of reasons
In previous years, you would require cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s all now changed. Incredible sound quality can be created in a really small space with modern earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re somewhat rare these days when you buy a new phone).
In part because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they started showing up everywhere. 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 program, or listening to music.
Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their dependability, portability, and convenience. Because of this, many people use them pretty much all the time. That’s where things get a little tricky.
It’s all vibrations
In essence, 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”.
In this pursuit, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. At this stage, you have a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what lets your brain figure it all out.
This is significant because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing damage, it’s volume. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is exactly the same.
The risks of earbud use
Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is fairly widespread. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.
Using earbuds can raise your risk of:
- Needing to utilize a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
- Experiencing social isolation or cognitive decline due to hearing loss.
- Continued exposure increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may introduce greater risks than using regular 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.
Either way, volume is the biggest factor, and both kinds of headphones can deliver hazardous levels of that.
Duration is also a concern besides volume
You may be thinking, well, the fix is easy: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes straight. Well… that would be helpful. But it might 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.
When you listen, here are some ways to keep it safer:
- Be certain that your device has volume level warnings enabled. If your listening volume goes too high, a warning will alert you. Of course, then it’s your job to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
- As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
- Give yourself lots of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
- If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn the volume down.
- Some smart devices let you reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
- If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
Earbuds specifically, and headphones in general, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally occurs slowly over time not suddenly. Which means, you may not even recognize it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.
There is no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. 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 be restored.
The damage is scarcely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. That can make NIHL hard to detect. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it is slowly getting worse and worse.
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). But the overall damage that’s being done, unfortunately, is irreversible.
So the best strategy is prevention
This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. Here are a few ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while lowering your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:
- Having your hearing tested by us routinely is a good plan. We will help determine the overall health of your hearing by having you screened.
- Control the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not wearing earbuds. Avoid overly loud settings whenever you can.
- Use other types of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones sometimes. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
- When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
- Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
- Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. With this function, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite as loud.
You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking steps 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?
Well…should I just toss my earbuds in the trash? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.
But your approach may need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You might not even recognize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.
When you listen, reduce the volume, that’s the first step. Step two is to consult with us about the state of your hearing right away.
If you believe you might have damage due to overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!