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Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, inadvertently left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) Now it’s so boring going for a jog in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the audio 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 when you finally find or buy a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. 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 individuals utilize them.

But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some significant risks to your hearing because so many people are using them for so many listening activities. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you may be putting your hearing in jeopardy!

Earbuds are unique for numerous reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a set of headphones, you’d have to adopt a heavy, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). That isn’t always the case now. Fabulous sound quality can be created in a really small space with contemporary earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (funny enough, they’re rather rare these days when you buy a new phone).

In part because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up all over the place. 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 show, or listening to tunes.

Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their dependability, portability, and convenience. Lots of people use them basically all of the time consequently. And that’s become a bit of a problem.

It’s all vibrations

Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the work of interpreting those vibrations, grouping one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

In this activity, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. There are tiny hairs along your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, 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 signals by a nerve in your ear.

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

What are the risks of using earbuds?

Because of the popularity 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.

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

  • Advancing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.
  • Continued subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.

There could be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional 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 think this is the case while others still aren’t sure.

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

Duration is also a concern besides volume

You may be thinking, well, the fix is easy: I’ll simply turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Well… that would be helpful. But it may not be the total answer.

This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. 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:

  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.
  • Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Reduce the volume.)
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Activate volume warnings on your device. If your listening volume gets too high, a warning will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
  • Stop listening right away if you hear ringing in your ears or your ears begin to hurt.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.

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 immediately. Most of the time individuals don’t even notice that it’s happening until it’s too late.

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

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

The damage accumulates slowly over time, and it usually starts as very limited in scope. NHIL can be difficult to detect as a result. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s slowly getting worse and worse.

Unfortunately, NIHL can’t 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 counter the damage that’s been done.

So the best plan 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 reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Use hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you’re not using earbuds. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud scenarios.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Use earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • Make routine visits with us to get your hearing checked. We will be able to help you get tested and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • Use other kinds of headphones. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones once in a while. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones also.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you protect your sense of hearing for years longer. 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 throw my earbuds in the garbage? Well, no. 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 might want to consider changing your approach. These earbuds could be harming your hearing and you might not even realize it. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

Step one is to control the volume and duration of your listening. Step two is to speak with us about the state of your hearing right away.

If you think you might have damage caused by 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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