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Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, maybe, unintentionally left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) Suddenly, your morning jog is a million times more boring. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor audio quality.

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 set of earbuds. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds are everywhere these days, and people utilize them for a lot more than only listening to their favorite songs (though, naturally, they do that too).

Unfortunately, in part because they are so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some significant risks for your hearing. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you may 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-fidelity listening experience. That isn’t necessarily the situation now. Modern earbuds can provide 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 started showing up everywhere. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to tunes, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their reliability, portability, and convenience. Because of this, many people use them almost all the time. And that’s become somewhat of an issue.

It’s all vibrations

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

In this pursuit, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs called stereocilia that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re transformed 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 the same.

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

The risk of hearing damage is prevalent because of the popularity of earbuds. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.

On an individual level, when you use earbuds at high volume, you raise your risk of:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
  • Continued subjection increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Not being able to communicate with your family and friends without using a hearing aid.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds might introduce greater risks than using regular headphones. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t convinced.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You may be thinking, well, the fix is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just reduce the volume. Well… that would help. But it might not be the total solution.

This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours might also harm your ears.

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

  • Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Lower the volume.)
  • Give yourself plenty of 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.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level alerts enabled. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume gets a little too high. Naturally, then it’s your job to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If you don’t want to think about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, specifically earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally occurs slowly over time not immediately. Most of the time people don’t even notice that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreparably damaged because of noise).

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

Regrettably, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments designed to mitigate and reduce some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal strategy is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a substantial focus on prevention. And there are a number of ways to decrease your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while using your earbuds:

  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not using earbuds. Avoid excessively loud environments whenever you can.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. With this feature, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite so loud.
  • Make regular visits with us to have your hearing examined. We will be able to help you get screened and track the general health of your hearing.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Wear earplugs, for example.
  • Use other kinds of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones also.

You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking actions to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. And, if you do wind 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 garbage? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds on a regular basis, you may want to consider changing your strategy. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is knowing about the danger.

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

If you think you may have damage because of overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!

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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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