Can Your Ears be Damaged by Earbuds?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, accidentally left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers significantly.

Often, you don’t grasp how valuable something is until you have to live without it (yes, we are not being discreet around here today).

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

Unfortunately, partly because they are so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some significant risks for your ears. Your hearing might be in danger if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.

Why earbuds are unique

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a set of headphones, you’d have to use a heavy, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). That isn’t always the situation now. Modern earbuds can supply amazing sound in a very small space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re rather rare nowadays when you purchase a new phone).

In part because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they began showing up all over the place. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re talking on the phone, streaming your favorite program, or listening to music.

It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a wide variety of contexts. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time consequently. That’s where things get a little challenging.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

In essence, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. Your brain will then sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. Inside of your ear are very small hairs known as stereocilia that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not big vibrations, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually identifies these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re converted into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

It’s not what kind 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 risks of earbud use

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage due to loud noise is fairly widespread. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.

Using earbuds can increase your danger of:

  • Not being capable of communicating with your family and friends without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
  • Going through social isolation or cognitive decline as a result of hearing loss.

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The thinking 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 sure.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

Maybe you think there’s an easy solution: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just reduce the volume. Naturally, this would be a good plan. But there’s more to it than that.

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

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

  • Quit listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to ache.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings enabled. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Naturally, then it’s your job to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration 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 down the volume.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • 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 give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen suddenly; it progresses slowly and over time. Which means, you might not even acknowledge it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.

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

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

The damage is scarcely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses slowly over time. That can make NIHL difficult to detect. It might be getting slowly worse, in the meantime, you think it’s just fine.

There is currently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. However, there are treatments created to offset and decrease some of the most considerable effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to reverse the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the most useful approach

This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. Here are several ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:

  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Use earplugs, for example.
  • Make routine visits with us to get your hearing tested. We will help determine the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not wearing earbuds. Avoid exceedingly loud environments whenever possible.
  • When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • Use other kinds of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones once in a while. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
  • Some headphones and earbuds include noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite so loud.

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 end up needing treatment, such as hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the rubbish? Not Exactly! Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!

But your strategy may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds may be harming your hearing and you may not even realize it. Being aware of 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 today.

If you think you may have damage as a result of 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.