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Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever forgotten 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. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And the sound 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 set of earbuds. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are everywhere nowadays, and individuals use them for a lot more than only listening to their favorite music (though, of course, they do that too).

Unfortunately, in part because they’re so easy and so common, earbuds present some significant risks for your hearing. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you could be putting your hearing at risk!

Why earbuds are unique

In the past, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not necessarily the situation now. Modern earbuds can supply stunning sound in a tiny space. They were popularized by smartphone manufacturers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smart device sold all through the 2010s (Presently, you don’t see that so much).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even have microphones) began showing up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite program, or listening to tunes.

Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their dependability, portability, and convenience. Consequently, many consumers use them virtually all the time. And that’s become a bit of a problem.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

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

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

It’s not what type of sound but volume that results in hearing loss. Which means the risk is the same whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is fairly widespread. 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 increase your risk of:

  • Developing deafness due to 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.
  • Repeated exposure increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.

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

It’s not only volume, it’s duration, too

You might be thinking, well, the solution is simple: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply reduce the volume. Well… that would help. But it may not be the complete answer.

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 max volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours might also harm your ears.

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

  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Make sure that your device has volume level warnings enabled. If your listening volume goes too high, a warning will alert you. Naturally, then it’s your job to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn the volume down.
  • Many smart devices let you decrease the max volume so you won’t even have to worry about it.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones generally, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss generally happens gradually over time not suddenly. The majority of the time individuals don’t even notice that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreversibly damaged because of noise).

The damage accumulates gradually 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 perfectly fine, all the while it’s gradually getting worse and worse.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. However, there are treatments designed to offset and minimize some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t counter the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a substantial emphasis on prevention. Here are a few ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • If you do need to go into an overly noisy setting, use ear protection. Wear earplugs, for instance.
  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re using. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones also.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you are not using earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud scenarios.
  • Schedule routine visits with us to get your hearing tested. We will be able to help you get tested and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • Use earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you protect your sense of hearing for years longer. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately require them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just throw my earbuds in the rubbish? Well, no. Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are expensive!

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

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

Think you may 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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