Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, maybe, inadvertently left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.
The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies here.
So when you finally find or purchase a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is suddenly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals use them.
Regrettably, partly because they’re so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some substantial risks for your hearing. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you could be putting your hearing in danger!
Why earbuds are unique
In the past, you would require cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s all now changed. Awesome sound quality can be produced in a really small space with contemporary earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Presently, you don’t see that as much).
These little earbuds (sometimes they even include microphones) started to show up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to tunes, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the chief ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).
It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a wide variety of contexts. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time as a result. That’s where things get a little tricky.
It’s all vibrations
Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just waves of vibrating air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the work of translating those vibrations, organizing one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.
Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. There are very small hairs along your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not huge vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. At that point, there’s a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what allows your brain to make heads or tails of it all.
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 exactly the same.
What are the dangers of using earbuds?
The danger of hearing damage is prevalent because of the appeal of earbuds. Across the globe, more than a billion people are at risk of developing hearing loss, according to one study.
Using earbuds can raise your danger of:
- Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
- Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
- Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
- Needing to use 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 reason might 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.
Besides, what’s more significant is the volume, and any set of headphones is able to deliver dangerous levels of sound.
Duration is also a concern besides volume
You may be thinking, well, the solution is easy: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll simply lower the volume. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.
The reason is that it’s not only 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 moderate volume for five hours might also damage your ears.
So here’s how you can be a little safer when you listen:
- Give yourself lots of breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.
- If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a max of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn down the volume.
- As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
- If you don’t want to think about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
- Activate volume warnings on your device. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume goes a little too high. Of course, then it’s up to you to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
- Stop listening immediately if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to hurt.
Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, particularly earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss typically occurs slowly over time not immediately. Which means, you may not even recognize it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent
Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. 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 be restored.
The damage is hardly noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. It may be getting progressively worse, in the meantime, you think it’s just fine.
Regrettably, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can reduce the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, can’t counter the damage that’s been done.
This means prevention is the best strategy
That’s why so many hearing specialists place a considerable focus on prevention. And there are multiple ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:
- Make routine visits with us to have your hearing examined. We will help determine the general health of your hearing by having you screened.
- Use hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Use earplugs, for example.
- Some headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this function, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without needing to crank it up quite so loud.
- When you’re not wearing your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud scenarios.
- When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
- Use other kinds of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking measures to prevent hearing loss, especially NHIL. And, if you do wind up needing treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.
So… are earbuds the enemy?
Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the garbage? Well, no. Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!
But your approach may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You might not even recognize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.
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 due to overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!