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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 run in the morning. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor audio 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. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are all over the place nowadays, and individuals utilize them for so much more than simply listening to their favorite tunes (though, of course, they do that too).

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

Earbuds are different for several reasons

In the past, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s all now changed. Modern earbuds can provide amazing sound in a very small space. They were popularized by smartphone makers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smart device sold all through the 2010s (At present, you don’t see that as much).

In part because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they started showing up everywhere. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the leading ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite program, or listening to tunes.

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

Vibrations are what it’s all about

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re just waves of moving air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the work of translating those vibrations, sorting one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really identifies these vibrations. At that point, you have a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what lets your brain figure it all out.

This is important because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing loss, it’s volume. Which means the risk is equivalent 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 risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is pretty 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 utilize earbuds at high volume, you raise your danger of:

  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Repeated subjection increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being able to communicate with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Developing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may introduce greater risks than using regular headphones. The reason may be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t convinced.

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

It isn’t only volume, it’s duration, too

You might be thinking, well, the solution is simple: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll simply lower the volume. Obviously, this would be a smart plan. But it might not be the total answer.

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

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

  • Make sure that your device has volume level alerts turned on. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume goes a little too high. Naturally, then it’s your job to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • Some smart devices let you decrease the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
  • Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • If you’re 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, especially earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop suddenly; it occurs slowly and over time. Most of the time people don’t even realize that it’s happening until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreversibly destroyed because of noise).

The damage builds up slowly over time, and it usually starts as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL hard to detect. It might be getting slowly worse, in the meantime, you think it’s perfectly fine.

Unfortunately, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. Still, there are treatments created to offset and minimize some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the overall damage that’s being done, regrettably, is irreversible.

So the best strategy is prevention

This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. And there are a number of ways to lower your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • If you do need to go into an overly loud environment, utilize hearing protection. Wear earplugs, for example.
  • Many headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite as loud.
  • When you’re using your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Having your hearing tested by us routinely is a good plan. We will be able to help you get tested and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • Use other types of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones too.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud situations.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do end up requiring treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just toss my earbuds in the garbage? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.

But your approach may need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds may 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 moderate the volume and duration of your listening. Step two is to consult with us about the state of your hearing today.

If you think you may have damage because 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.
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