Have you ever forgotten 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 run 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 set of earbuds. 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 use them.
But, regrettably, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your hearing because so many people are using them for so many listening activities. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you could be putting your hearing in jeopardy!
Earbuds are unique for numerous reasons
It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a bulky, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is slang for headphones). All that has now changed. Contemporary earbuds can supply stunning sound in a tiny space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you buy a new phone).
These little earbuds (frequently 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).
It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a wide variety of contexts. Consequently, many consumers use them pretty much all the time. That’s where things get a bit challenging.
It’s all vibrations
Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. Your brain will then classify the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.
Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs called stereocilia that vibrate when subjected to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re transformed into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.
It’s not what type of sound but volume that results in hearing loss. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is the same.
The dangers of earbud use
The danger of hearing damage is prevalent because of the popularity of earbuds. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.
On an individual level, when you use earbuds at high volume, you increase your risk of:
- Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
- Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
- Needing to use a hearing aid so that you can communicate with friends and loved ones.
- Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
There might be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason may be that earbuds direct sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.
Besides, what’s more relevant is the volume, and any pair of headphones is able to deliver hazardous levels of sound.
It isn’t simply volume, it’s duration, too
Maybe you think there’s a simple fix: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just lower the volume. Of course, this would be a smart plan. But it might not be the total answer.
The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the issue, it’s the duration. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as harmful as max volume for five minutes.
So here’s how you can be a bit safer when you listen:
- As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
- Take frequent breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
- Activate volume warnings on your device. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
- If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn the volume down.
- If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
- If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
Earbuds specifically, and headphones in general, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally happens slowly over time not immediately. Which means, you may not even notice it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.
There is no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss
Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by overexposure 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 detect as a result. You might think your hearing is perfectly 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 reduce the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, are not able to counter the damage that’s been done.
So the best strategy is prevention
This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. And there are several ways to decrease your risk of hearing loss, and to practice good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:
- Use hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work exceptionally well.
- When you’re not wearing your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud situations.
- When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
- Use other types of headphones. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones too.
- Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling technology. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.
- Schedule regular visits with us to get your hearing examined. We will be able to help you get tested and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you safeguard your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do wind up requiring treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.
So… are earbuds the enemy?
Well…should I just throw my earbuds in the garbage? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get costly.
But your approach may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.
When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.
Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get tested now!