Have you ever forgotten your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the laundry or maybe lost them altogether? Suddenly, your morning jog is a million times more boring. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. 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 relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. The world is instantly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals utilize them.
But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your hearing because so many people use them for so many listening activities. Your hearing could be in jeopardy if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.
Why earbuds are different
In previous years, you would require cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That isn’t always the situation now. Modern earbuds can supply stunning sound in a tiny space. They were popularized by smartphone manufacturers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smartphone sold all through the 2010s (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you buy a new phone).
These little earbuds (frequently they even include microphones) began showing up everywhere because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the leading ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite show, or listening to music.
It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a wide variety of contexts. Because of this, many consumers use them almost all the time. That’s where things get a little tricky.
Vibrations are what it’s all about
This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re just air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. Your brain will then sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.
In this endeavor, 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 big vibrations, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re converted into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.
This is significant because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing damage, it’s volume. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is the same.
What are the risks of using earbuds?
Because of the popularity of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is pretty prevalent. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.
Using earbuds can raise your risk of:
- Going through social isolation or mental decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
- Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with friends and loved ones.
- Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
- Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.
There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may introduce greater risks than using conventional headphones. The reason might be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t convinced.
Either way, volume is the principal consideration, and both kinds of headphones can deliver hazardous levels of that.
Duration is also a concern besides volume
Maybe you think there’s an easy solution: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply reduce the volume. Well… that would be helpful. But there’s more to it than that.
The reason is that it’s not simply the volume that’s the issue, it’s the duration. Think about it like this: listening at max volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours might also damage your ears.
When you listen, here are a few ways to keep it safer:
- Make sure that your device has volume level alerts turned on. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to lower the volume.
- If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.
- Some smart devices allow you to lower the max volume so you won’t even have to worry about it.
- Give yourself lots of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
- Quit listening right away if you hear ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
- It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, specifically earbuds. So give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen suddenly; it occurs slowly and over time. Most of the time individuals don’t even notice 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 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 identify as a result. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it is slowly getting worse and worse.
There is currently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can minimize the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, can’t counter the damage that’s been done.
So the ideal strategy is prevention
This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. Here are a few ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:
- Schedule regular visits with us to get your hearing checked. We will be able to help you get tested and track the general health of your hearing.
- Use hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Wear earplugs, for instance.
- Control the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you’re not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud situations.
- Change up the types of headphones you’re wearing. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones too.
- Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to crank it up quite so loud.
- Use volume-controlling apps on your phone and other devices.
You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking measures 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?
So does all this mean you should find your nearest set of earbuds and throw them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Particularly not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!
But your strategy may need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. These earbuds may be harming your hearing and you may not even notice it. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.
When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. But speaking with us about the state of your hearing is the next step.
Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get assessed now!