Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, unintentionally left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) All of a sudden, your morning jog is so much more boring. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor sound quality.
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 set of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals use them.
But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some significant risks to your hearing because so many people are using them for so many listening activities. Your hearing might be in jeopardy if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.
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 bulky, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). All that has now changed. Awesome sound quality can be produced in a very small space with contemporary earbuds. They were popularized by smartphone makers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (At present, you don’t find that so much).
These little earbuds (frequently they even include microphones) began showing up everywhere because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite program, or listening to music.
It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a large number of contexts. Lots of people use them basically all of the time as a result. And that’s become a bit of an issue.
It’s all vibrations
This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re just air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. Your brain will then sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.
Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. At this stage, you have a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what allows your brain to figure it all out.
This is important because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing loss, it’s volume. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is exactly the same.
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 fairly 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 use earbuds at high volume, you increase your risk of:
- Repeated subjection increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
- Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with friends and loved ones.
- Advancing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might introduce greater risks than using regular headphones. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive components of your ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.
Besides, what’s more important is the volume, and any pair of headphones is able to deliver hazardous levels of sound.
It’s not just volume, it’s duration, as well
You might be thinking, well, the fix is simple: I’ll simply lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes in a row. Naturally, this would be a good idea. But it may not be the complete answer.
This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as damaging as max volume for five minutes.
When you listen, here are a few ways to make it safer:
- Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
- If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn the volume down.
- As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
- Quit listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to hurt.
- Many smart devices allow you to lower the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
- Make sure that your device has volume level warnings turned on. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume gets a bit too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to lower the volume.
Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, particularly earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally occurs slowly over time not suddenly. Which means, you may not even observe it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.
There’s no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss
Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is typically permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreparably destroyed due to noise).
The damage is scarcely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. It might be getting slowly worse, all the while, you believe it’s just fine.
There is currently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can mitigate 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 place a considerable focus on prevention. And there are several ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:
- Change up the types of headphones you’re wearing. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones also.
- Having your hearing tested by us routinely is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get screened and track the general health of your hearing.
- When you’re not using your earbuds, reduce the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud scenarios.
- When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
- Use hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.
- Use earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling technology. With this function, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to crank 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. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately need them.
So… are earbuds the enemy?
So does all this mean you should grab your nearest set of earbuds and throw them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!
But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds on a regular basis, you might want to consider changing your strategy. These earbuds may be harming your hearing and you might not even notice it. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.
When you listen, regulate the volume, that’s the first step. Step two is to consult with us about the state of your hearing right away.
Think you may have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested now!