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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 wash or maybe lost them altogether? Now it’s so boring going for a run in the morning. Your commute or bus 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 relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. Now your life is full of completely clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of people use them.

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

Why earbuds are different

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a set of headphones, you’d have to use a bulky, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That’s not necessarily the situation now. Awesome sound quality can be produced in a very small space with contemporary earbuds. They were popularized by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (Presently, you don’t find that as much).

These little earbuds (frequently they even include microphones) began showing up everywhere because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re talking on the phone, streaming your favorite program, or listening to music.

It’s that combination of convenience, portability, and dependability 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 bit tricky.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re just waves of moving air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the work of translating those vibrations, grouping one kind 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. There are very small hairs inside of your ear 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 converted into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.

This is significant because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing damage, it’s volume. Which means the risk is the same whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR program.

What are the risks of using earbuds?

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

Using earbuds can increase your risk of:

  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Experiencing social isolation or cognitive decline as a result of hearing loss.
  • Advancing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds might introduce greater risks than using conventional headphones. 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 sure.

Besides, what’s more relevant is the volume, and any set of headphones is capable of delivering dangerous levels of sound.

It’s not simply volume, it’s duration, as well

You might be thinking, well, the fix is simple: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just reduce the volume. Well… that would be helpful. But there’s more to it than that.

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

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

  • Activate volume alerts on your device. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Of course, then it’s up to you 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.
  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.
  • Many smart devices let you lower the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • Take frequent breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • Quit listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones in general, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) happen suddenly; it occurs slowly and over time. Which means, you may not even observe it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never recover.

The damage is hardly noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s slowly getting worse and worse.

There is currently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. However, there are treatments created to offset and decrease some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the general damage that’s being done, unfortunately, is permanent.

So the best strategy is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a substantial focus on prevention. Here are a few ways to keep listening to your earbuds while lowering your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Switch up the types of headphones you’re wearing. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones now and then. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
  • Some headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. This will mean you won’t have to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.
  • Use volume-controlling apps on your phone and other devices.
  • If you do have to go into an overly noisy setting, utilize hearing protection. Ear plugs, for example, work quite well.
  • Getting your hearing checked by us routinely is a smart plan. We will be capable of hearing you get assessed and track the general health of your hearing.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. Avoid exceedingly loud settings whenever you can.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you safeguard your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do wind up needing treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should find your nearest pair of earbuds and chuck them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are expensive!

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you may want to consider changing your strategy. These earbuds may be damaging your hearing and you may not even notice it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

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

If you believe you may have damage as a result 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.