Have you ever left 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. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad audio quality.
The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies here.
So you’re so happy when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. The world is instantly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are everywhere nowadays, and people use them for a lot more than only listening to their favorite music (though, naturally, they do that too).
Unfortunately, in part because they’re so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some considerable risks for your hearing. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you may be putting your hearing in jeopardy!
Why earbuds are unique
In previous years, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. All that has now changed. Modern earbuds can supply fantastic sound in a very small space. They were popularized by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smartphone sold all through the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re rather rare these days when you buy a new phone).
These little earbuds (frequently they even have microphones) started to show up everywhere because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time 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, portability, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a large number of contexts. Because of this, many consumers use them pretty much all the time. That’s where things get a little tricky.
Vibrations are what it’s all about
Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply waves of vibrating air molecules. Your brain will then sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.
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. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At this stage, you have a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what lets your brain figure it all out.
This is significant because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing loss, it’s volume. Which means the risk is equivalent whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR program.
What are the risks of using earbuds?
The danger of hearing damage is widespread because of the appeal of earbuds. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.
On an individual level, when you utilize earbuds at high volume, you raise your risk of:
- Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
- Advancing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
- Continued subjection increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without using a hearing aid.
There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might introduce greater risks than using conventional headphones. The reason may be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are convinced.
Either way, volume is the primary consideration, and both kinds of headphones can create hazardous levels of that.
It’s not just volume, it’s duration, also
You might be thinking, well, the fix is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, 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 important as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will damage your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours could also damage your ears.
So here’s how you can be a bit safer when you listen:
- Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Reduce the volume.)
- If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
- Take regular breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
- Activate volume warnings on your device. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Naturally, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
- It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
- Quit listening immediately if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to ache.
Earbuds particularly, and headphones in general, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss usually occurs gradually over time not immediately. Most of the time individuals don’t even detect that it’s occurring until it’s too late.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually 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 barely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and develops gradually over time. NHIL can be hard to identify as a result. You might think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it is slowly getting worse and worse.
There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can mitigate the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. But the general damage that’s being done, sadly, is irreversible.
So the best strategy is prevention
This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. And there are several ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:
- When you’re not using your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. Avoid exceedingly loud environments whenever you can.
- Some 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 turn it up quite so loud.
- Use multiple kinds of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones sometimes. Try using over-the-ear headphones too.
- Getting your hearing checked by us routinely is a smart plan. We will help determine the general health of your hearing by having you screened.
- If you do have to go into an extremely noisy setting, use hearing protection. Use earplugs, for instance.
- When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking steps to prevent hearing loss, especially 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 set of earbuds and throw them in the garbage? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get expensive.
But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds on a regular basis, you may want to think about varying your strategy. These earbuds may be harming your hearing and you might not even notice it. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.
Step one is to control the volume and duration of your listening. Step two is to speak with us about the state of your hearing right away.
Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get assessed now!