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Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, maybe, accidentally left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the laundry?) Now it’s so boring going for a jog in the morning. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

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

So when you finally find or buy a working set of earbuds, you’re grateful. Now your life is full of perfectly clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are all over the place these days, and people use them for a lot more than just listening to their favorite music (though, of course, they do that too).

Regrettably, in part because they’re so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some considerable risks for your hearing. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in danger!

Earbuds are different for numerous reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a bulky, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). All that has now changed. Modern earbuds can provide stunning sound in a tiny space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (funny enough, they’re rather rare these days when you purchase a new phone).

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

It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a wide variety of contexts. Because of this, many people use them virtually all the time. And that’s become somewhat of a problem.

It’s all vibrations

Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. Your brain will then classify 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 called stereocilia that vibrate when subjected to sound. These are not large vibrations, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really identifies these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are transformed into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

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

The dangers of earbud use

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the risk 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.

On an individual level, when you use earbuds at high volume, you increase your danger of:

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

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason might be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are convinced.

Besides, what’s more significant is the volume, and any pair of headphones is capable of delivering hazardous levels of sound.

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You may be thinking, well, the solution is easy: I’ll just lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes in a row. Obviously, this would be a good idea. But it may not be the complete solution.

This is because how long you listen is as important as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as damaging as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • Stop listening immediately if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears start to ache.
  • Many smart devices let you reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • Take regular breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings turned on. If your listening volume gets too high, a warning will alert you. Of course, then it’s your job to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, particularly earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen all of a sudden; it occurs gradually and over time. The majority of the time individuals don’t even notice that it’s happening until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by overexposure to loud sound, they can never recover.

The damage accumulates slowly over time, and it usually starts as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL difficult to recognize. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s slowly getting worse and worse.

There is currently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can reduce the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, are not able to reverse the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a significant focus on prevention. And there are several ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • If you do have to go into an overly noisy setting, utilize ear protection. Ear plugs, for example, work remarkably well.
  • Control the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you’re not using earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud scenarios.
  • Schedule routine visits with us to have your hearing tested. We will be capable of hearing you get screened and monitor the general health of your hearing.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite so loud.
  • Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Change up the types of headphones you’re wearing. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones sometimes. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.

You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking steps to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. And, if you do end up requiring treatment, such as hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should find your nearest set of earbuds and chuck them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get costly.

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you might want to consider changing your approach. You may not even realize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is knowing about the danger.

When you listen, reduce the volume, that’s the first step. Step two is to consult with us about the state of your hearing right away.

If you believe you may have damage due to 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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