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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? Suddenly, your morning jog is a million times more boring. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad audio quality.

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

So you’re so happy when you finally get a working set of earbuds. Now your world is full of completely clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are everywhere these days, and individuals use them for a lot more than simply listening to their favorite music (though, obviously, they do that too).

Unfortunately, partly because they’re so easy and so common, earbuds present some significant risks for your hearing. Your hearing may be in danger if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are different for several reasons

In previous years, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That isn’t always the situation now. Incredible sound quality can be created in a very small space with contemporary earbuds. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare nowadays when you buy a new phone).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even include microphones) began showing up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the leading ways you’re talking on the phone, streaming your favorite show, or listening to tunes.

It’s that mixture of convenience, mobility, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a large number of contexts. Because of this, many consumers use them virtually all the time. That’s where things get a bit challenging.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

In essence, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply waves of vibrating 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.

In this activity, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not large vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. At that point, there’s a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what lets your brain figure it all out.

It’s not what type of sound but volume that causes hearing damage. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is the same.

The risks of earbud use

The risk 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 danger of:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.
  • Experiencing social isolation or cognitive decline as a result of hearing loss.
  • Not being able to communicate with your friends and family without using a hearing aid.

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The idea here is that the sound is directed toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

Maybe you think there’s a simple solution: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes in a row. Naturally, this would be a smart idea. But there’s more to it than that.

The reason is that it’s not simply the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Modest volume for five hours can be just as damaging as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • If you don’t want to think about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings enabled. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Of course, then it’s your job to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, particularly earbuds. So give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) develop all of a sudden; it occurs gradually and over time. The majority of the time people don’t even realize that it’s happening until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by overexposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.

The damage builds up gradually over time, and it normally starts as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL difficult to recognize. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it is gradually getting worse and worse.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. However, there are treatments created to mitigate and reduce some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t counter the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the best approach

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a substantial focus on prevention. Here are several ways to keep listening to your earbuds while reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:

  • Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud in order to hear your media clearly.
  • Change up the styles of headphones you’re using. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones sometimes. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
  • When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, reduce the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • If you do have to go into an extremely loud setting, use hearing protection. Use earplugs, for example.
  • Make routine visits with us to get your hearing tested. We will help determine the general health of your hearing by getting you screened.

You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking actions to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. And, if you do wind up requiring treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the rubbish? Well, no. Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are expensive!

But your approach may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. Step two is to speak with us about the state of your hearing right away.

If you believe you may have damage caused by 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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