Have you ever forgotten your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the wash or maybe lost them altogether? All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.
The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies here.
So when you finally find or purchase a working set of earbuds, you’re thankful. Now your life is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are all over the place these days, and individuals utilize them for so much more than only listening to their favorite music (though, obviously, they do that too).
But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your ears because so many people are using them for so many listening activities. Your hearing could be in jeopardy if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.
Earbuds are different for numerous reasons
In the past, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. That’s all now changed. Incredible sound quality can be created in a really small space with contemporary earbuds. They were popularized by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smartphone sold all through the 2010s (funny enough, they’re rather rare nowadays when you buy a new phone).
These little earbuds (frequently they even include microphones) started to show up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the chief ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).
It’s that combination of convenience, portability, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a large number of contexts. Consequently, many people use them virtually all the time. That’s where things get a bit challenging.
It’s all vibrations
Essentially, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just waves of vibrating air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the work of translating those vibrations, sorting one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.
Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually recognizes these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re converted into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.
This is significant 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.
The risks of earbud use
The danger of hearing damage is prevalent because of the popularity of earbuds. 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:
- Not being able to communicate with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
- Going through social isolation or cognitive decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
- Developing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
- Continued subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might present greater risks than using regular headphones. The thinking here is that the sound is directed toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.
Besides, what’s more relevant is the volume, and any set of headphones is capable of delivering dangerous levels of sound.
Duration is also a concern besides volume
You might be thinking, well, the solution is easy: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes straight. Of course, this would be a smart idea. But it may not be the total answer.
This is because how long you listen is as important as how loud it is. Modest volume for five hours can be just as damaging as top volume for five minutes.
So here’s how you can be somewhat safer when you listen:
- Quit listening immediately if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to ache.
- As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
- Make sure that your device has volume level warnings enabled. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume gets a little too high. Naturally, then it’s your job to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
- Some smart devices let you lower the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
- Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
- If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.
Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, especially earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop suddenly; it progresses gradually and over time. The majority of the time people don’t even realize that it’s happening 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. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by overexposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.
The damage is hardly noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses slowly over time. That can make NIHL difficult to detect. You may think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it is gradually getting worse and worse.
There is presently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. Still, there are treatments designed to offset and reduce some of the most considerable effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the general damage that’s being done, unfortunately, is irreversible.
So the ideal plan is prevention
That’s why so many hearing specialists put a significant focus on prevention. And there are a number of ways to decrease your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while using your earbuds:
- Getting your hearing tested by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be capable of hearing you get screened and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
- When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
- Change up the styles of headphones you’re using. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones too.
- If you do need to go into an overly loud environment, use ear protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
- Many headphones and earbuds include noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this feature, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite so loud.
- Reduce the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not wearing earbuds. Avoid overly loud settings whenever you can.
You will be able to preserve 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?
Well…should I just toss my earbuds in the rubbish? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.
But your strategy could need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. These earbuds could be damaging your hearing and you may not even notice it. Your best defense, then, is knowing about the danger.
When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. But speaking with us about the state of your hearing is the next step.
Think you may have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested now!