Have you ever forgotten 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 walk in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.
Often, you don’t realize how valuable something is until you have to live without it (yes, we are not being discreet around here today).
So you’re so happy when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. Now your life is full of completely clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of people utilize them.
Unfortunately, partly because they are so easy and so common, earbuds present some significant risks for your ears. Your hearing could be at risk if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.
Earbuds are different for numerous reasons
In the past, you would need bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not necessarily the situation anymore. Fabulous sound quality can be produced in a very small space with modern earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare nowadays when you buy a new phone).
In part 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 principal ways you’re talking on the phone, streaming your favorite program, or listening to tunes.
It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and reliability that makes earbuds practical in a wide variety of contexts. Because of this, many consumers use them pretty much all the time. And that’s become somewhat of an issue.
It’s all vibrations
Essentially, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply waves of moving air molecules. Your brain will then sort 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 vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, 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 important 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.
The risks of earbud use
Because of the popularity of earbuds, the danger 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 raise your risk of:
- Experiencing social isolation or mental decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
- Advancing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
- Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
- Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.
There might be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason might be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.
Either way, volume is the main factor, and both kinds of headphones can create hazardous levels of that.
It isn’t just volume, it’s duration, also
You might be thinking, well, the solution is simple: I’ll simply turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Obviously, this would be a good idea. But there’s more to it than that.
The reason is that it’s not simply the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Think about it like this: listening at max volume for five minutes will damage your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours could also damage your ears.
When you listen, here are some ways to make it safer:
- Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Reduce the volume.)
- If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.
- Quit listening immediately if you experience ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
- Take regular breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
- Make sure that your device has volume level alerts enabled. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume goes a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
- It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, specifically earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss generally happens slowly over time not immediately. Most of the time people don’t even detect that it’s occurring until it’s too late.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent
Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreversibly damaged because of noise).
The damage is hardly noticeable, especially in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. That can make NIHL hard to recognize. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s gradually getting worse and worse.
Regrettably, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. 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 approach
This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. And there are several ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:
- Many headphones and earbuds incorporate noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite as loud.
- Getting your hearing checked by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be capable of hearing you get assessed and monitor the general health of your hearing.
- Use other types of headphones. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones sometimes. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones as well.
- Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
- Control the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not wearing earbuds. Avoid overly loud environments whenever possible.
- When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking actions to prevent hearing loss, especially NHIL. 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 find your nearest set of earbuds and chuck them in the trash? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be costly.
But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds on a regular basis, you might want to consider changing your strategy. You might not even realize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is knowing about the danger.
When you listen, reduce 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 may have damage caused by overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!