Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, maybe, accidentally left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the laundry?) Now it’s so boring going for a run in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers significantly.
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. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of individuals utilize them.
But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some significant risks to your hearing because so many people are using them for so many listening activities. Your hearing may be in jeopardy if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.
Earbuds are different for a number of reasons
It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to use a heavy, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). That’s not always the situation anymore. Contemporary earbuds can provide fantastic 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 find that so much).
These little earbuds (sometimes they even have microphones) began showing up all over the place because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).
Earbuds are practical in quite a few contexts because of their reliability, portability, and convenience. Lots of people use them basically all of the time as a result. 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 moving air molecules. Your brain will then classify the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.
Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. There are very small hairs along your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. At this stage, you have a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what lets your brain make heads or tails of it all.
This is significant because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing loss, it’s volume. Which means the risk is the same 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 danger of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is pretty 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 risk of:
- Not being capable of communicating with your family and friends without using a hearing aid.
- Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
- Repeated subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might present greater risks than using regular headphones. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.
Besides, what’s more relevant is the volume, and any pair of headphones is capable of delivering dangerous levels of sound.
It isn’t only volume, it’s duration, also
Perhaps you think there’s an easy fix: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply reduce the volume. Well… that would help. But it might not be the complete solution.
This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at max volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours might also damage your ears.
When you listen, here are some ways to make it safer:
- Take frequent breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
- Quit listening immediately if you hear ringing in your ears or your ears start to ache.
- Enable volume alerts on your device. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume gets a little too high. Naturally, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
- If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn the volume down.
- As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
- Some smart devices allow you to lower the max volume so you won’t even need to think about it.
Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, particularly earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) happen suddenly; it occurs slowly and over time. Most of the time people don’t even detect that it’s happening until it’s too late.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is typically irreversible. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.
The damage is barely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. That can make NIHL hard to detect. It may be getting gradually worse, all the while, you believe it’s perfectly fine.
Unfortunately, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. Still, there are treatments created to mitigate and reduce some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the general damage that’s being done, regrettably, is irreversible.
This means prevention is the best approach
That’s why so many hearing specialists place a substantial emphasis on prevention. Here are some ways to keep listening to your earbuds while decreasing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:
- Some 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 needing to turn it up quite as loud.
- Switch up the styles of headphones you’re using. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
- Having your hearing tested by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get tested and track the overall health of your hearing.
- Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
- If you do have to go into an overly loud environment, utilize ear protection. Use earplugs, for example.
- Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you are not wearing earbuds. Avoid excessively loud settings whenever you can.
You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking steps to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do eventually require them.
So… are earbuds the enemy?
So does all this mean you should grab your nearest pair of earbuds and throw them in the trash? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get costly.
But your approach could need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. You may not even realize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.
Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. The second step is to talk to us about the state of your hearing today.
Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested now!