Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, inadvertently left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the laundry?) All of a sudden, your morning jog is so much more boring. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.
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 pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is instantly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people utilize them.
Regrettably, in part because they are so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some considerable risks for your hearing. Your hearing might be at risk if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.
Earbuds are different for several reasons
It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a set of headphones, you’d have to adopt a bulky, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That’s not necessarily the situation now. Incredible sound quality can be created in a very small space with contemporary earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Currently, you don’t see that so much).
Partly because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they began showing up all over the place. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite show, or listening to tunes.
It’s that mixture of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a large number of contexts. Lots of individuals use them pretty much all of the time as a result. That’s where things get a little challenging.
It’s all vibrations
In essence, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the work of interpreting those vibrations, organizing one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.
In this endeavor, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small hairs along your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not big vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At that point, there’s a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what lets your brain figure it all out.
It’s not what type of sound but volume that causes hearing damage. Which means the risk is equivalent whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.
What are the risks of using earbuds?
Because of the popularity of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is fairly 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 danger of:
- Needing to use a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.
- Going through social isolation or cognitive decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
- Continued subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Advancing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may present greater risks than using conventional headphones. The reason might be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.
Either way, volume is the principal factor, and both kinds of headphones can deliver hazardous levels of that.
It isn’t just volume, it’s duration, also
You may be thinking, well, the fix is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just lower the volume. Well… that would be helpful. But there’s more to it than that.
This is because how long you listen is as important as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as harmful as top volume for five minutes.
So here’s how you can be a bit safer when you listen:
- Many smart devices let you reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to worry about it.
- Take frequent breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
- Make sure that your device has volume level alerts turned on. If your listening volume goes too high, a warning will alert you. Of course, then it’s your job to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
- If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
- If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.
- As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
Earbuds specifically, and headphones generally, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss generally happens slowly over time not suddenly. The majority of the time people don’t even realize that it’s happening until it’s too late.
Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is typically irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreversibly destroyed due to noise).
The damage is scarcely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. It may be getting progressively worse, all the while, you think it’s just fine.
Sadly, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments designed to mitigate and decrease some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to counter the damage that’s been done.
So the best strategy is prevention
This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. And there are several ways to decrease your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while using your earbuds:
- Many headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this function, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite so loud.
- When you’re not wearing your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. Avoid exceedingly loud settings whenever possible.
- Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
- If you do need to go into an overly noisy setting, utilize hearing protection. Use earplugs, for instance.
- Getting your hearing tested by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get assessed and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
- Use other kinds of headphones. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones too.
You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking actions to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. And, if you do end 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? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get expensive.
But your strategy may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You may not even realize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.
When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.
Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested now!