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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 wash or maybe lost them altogether? Now it’s so boring going for a jog in the morning. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor sound quality.

Often, you don’t realize how valuable something is until you’ve lost it (yes, we are not being subtle around here today).

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. The world is instantly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds are all over the place these days, and people use them for a lot more than simply listening to their favorite music (though, obviously, they do that too).

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your ears because so many people are using them for so many listening tasks. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you could be putting your hearing in jeopardy!

Earbuds are different for several reasons

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

Partly because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they began showing up everywhere. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re talking on the phone, viewing your favorite program, or listening to music.

Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. 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 essentially the same thing. They’re just waves of moving air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the work of interpreting those vibrations, organizing 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 tiny hairs along your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually recognizes these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are converted into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.

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

The dangers of earbud use

The risk of hearing damage is widespread because of the appeal of earbuds. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.

Using earbuds can increase your danger of:

  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Developing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without using a hearing aid.

There might be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The thinking 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.

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

Duration is also a concern besides volume

Perhaps you think there’s an easy solution: 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 there’s more to it than that.

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

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

  • Give yourself lots of breaks. It’s best to take frequent and extended breaks.
  • Some smart devices allow you to reduce the max volume so you won’t even have to think about it.
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level alerts enabled. If your listening volume gets too high, a warning will alert you. Of course, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn down the volume.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.

Earbuds specifically, and headphones in general, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally happens slowly over time not immediately. The majority of the time individuals don’t even notice that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

There’s no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss

Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never recover.

The damage is scarcely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. You might think your hearing is just fine, all the while it is slowly getting worse and worse.

Regrettably, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can reduce the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

So the best plan is prevention

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

  • If you do have to go into an extremely noisy setting, use ear protection. Ear plugs, for example, work exceptionally well.
  • Use volume-restricting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Getting your hearing checked by us routinely is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get assessed and monitor the general health of your hearing.
  • Some headphones and earbuds incorporate noise-canceling technology, try to use those. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.
  • Use other types of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones sometimes. Try using over-the-ear headphones too.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, reduce the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud situations.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do wind up needing treatment, such as hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just throw my earbuds in the rubbish? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get expensive.

But your strategy may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds may be harming your hearing and you may not even recognize it. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. The second step is to speak with us about the state of your hearing right away.

If you think you might 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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