Have you ever left your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the laundry 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 poor sound quality.
The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies here.
So when you finally find or buy a working set of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is instantly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are everywhere these days, and people utilize them for so much more than simply listening to their favorite music (though, naturally, they do that too).
Regrettably, partly because they’re so easy and so common, earbuds present some substantial risks for your ears. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in jeopardy!
Earbuds are unique for a number of reasons
In the past, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. All that has now changed. Modern earbuds can supply stunning sound in a very small space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Presently, you don’t see that as much).
Partly because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up everywhere. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re talking on the phone, streaming your favorite program, or listening to music.
Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their dependability, portability, and convenience. Because of this, many people use them virtually all the time. That’s where things get a bit challenging.
It’s all vibrations
This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re just waves of moving air molecules. Your brain will then organize the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.
In this activity, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re converted into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.
This is significant because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing damage, it’s volume. Which means the risk is equivalent whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR program.
The dangers of earbud use
Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is quite 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:
- Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
- Going through social isolation or mental decline as a result of hearing loss.
- Repeated exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Needing to utilize a hearing aid in order to communicate with friends and loved ones.
There may be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. 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 able to deliver dangerous levels of sound.
Duration is also an issue besides volume
Maybe you think there’s an easy solution: I’ll simply lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes straight. Of course, this would be a smart plan. But it might not be the total solution.
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 equally as damaging as top volume for five minutes.
So here’s how you can be somewhat safer when you listen:
- Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
- If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
- 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.
- It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
- Quit listening immediately if you hear ringing in your ears or your ears start to ache.
- Be certain that your device has volume level alerts enabled. If your listening volume goes too high, a warning will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.
Earbuds specifically, and headphones in general, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen all of a sudden; it occurs gradually and over time. Which means, you might not even recognize it happening, at least, not 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 damaged by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never recover.
The damage is scarcely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. NHIL can be hard to identify as a result. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s slowly getting worse and worse.
There is currently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can minimize the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. But the total damage that’s being done, sadly, is permanent.
This means prevention is the best strategy
That’s why so many hearing specialists place a substantial emphasis on prevention. And there are multiple ways to lower your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:
- 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 also.
- When you’re not using your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or steering clear of overly loud situations.
- Having your hearing tested by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get assessed and monitor the general health of your hearing.
- Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.
- If you do need to go into an extremely noisy environment, use hearing protection. Wear earplugs, for instance.
- When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do eventually need them.
So… are earbuds the enemy?
So does all this mean you should grab your nearest set of earbuds and chuck them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get expensive.
But your approach could need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds may be harming your hearing and you might 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.
If you believe you might have damage due to overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!