Can Your Hearing be Damaged by Earbuds?

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. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor sound quality.

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

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. Now your world is full of completely clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals use them.

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your hearing because so many people are using them for so many listening tasks. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing at risk!

Why earbuds are different

In previous years, you would require cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s all now changed. Contemporary earbuds can provide amazing sound in a tiny space. They were popularized by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (funny enough, they’re rather rare nowadays when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (frequently they even have 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 main ways you’re taking calls, streaming your favorite show, or listening to tunes.

It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a large number 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

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re simply air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. Your brain will then organize the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this activity, your brain receives a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At that point, you have a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what lets your brain make heads or tails of it all.

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 the same.

The risks of earbud use

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is pretty widespread. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

Using earbuds can increase your risk of:

  • Not being able to communicate with your family and friends without using a hearing aid.
  • Developing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Going through social isolation or cognitive decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
  • Continued exposure increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might introduce greater risks than using conventional headphones. 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 on board.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

Maybe you think there’s a simple fix: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just reduce the volume. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Modest volume for five hours can be equally as damaging as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Stop listening right away if you experience ringing in your ears or your ears start to ache.
  • Activate volume alerts on your device. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume gets a bit too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.
  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn down the volume.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, particularly earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss usually occurs gradually over time not suddenly. Which means, you may not even observe it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreparably damaged due to noise).

The damage is hardly noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses slowly over time. That can make NIHL difficult to detect. It may be getting slowly worse, all the while, you believe it’s perfectly fine.

There is presently 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. But the general damage that’s being done, sadly, is permanent.

So the ideal strategy is prevention

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

  • Use multiple types of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones also.
  • When you’re using your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling technology. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite as loud.
  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not using earbuds. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud scenarios.
  • If you do need to go into an extremely noisy setting, utilize ear protection. Wear earplugs, for instance.
  • Make regular visits with us to get your hearing examined. We will help identify the overall health of your hearing by having you screened.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you safeguard your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do wind up requiring 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? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get costly.

But your approach may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds may be damaging your hearing and you might not even notice it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, regulate the volume, that’s the first step. The second step is to talk to us about the state of your hearing today.

Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested now!

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.