Audiology & Hearing Care of SWFL - Bonita Springs, FL

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

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 bus ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

Often, you don’t recognize how valuable something is until you have to live without it (yes, we are not being discreet around here today).

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals use them.

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your hearing because so many people are using them for so many listening tasks. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you could be putting your hearing in danger!

Earbuds are different for a number of reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a pair of headphones, you’d have to use a bulky, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That’s not necessarily the case now. Contemporary earbuds can supply stunning sound in a very small space. They were popularized by smartphone makers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (funny enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you buy a new phone).

Partly because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they began showing up everywhere. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the leading ways you’re talking on the phone, streaming your favorite program, or listening to music.

Earbuds are practical in a number of contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of people use them pretty much all of the time consequently. That’s where things get a little challenging.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Essentially, 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, sorting one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

In this activity, your brain receives a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually recognizes these vibrations. At this stage, there’s a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what allows your brain to make heads or tails of it all.

This is important because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing loss, it’s volume. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is exactly the same.

The risks of earbud use

The risk of hearing damage is widespread because of the appeal of earbuds. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

On an individual level, when you use earbuds at high volume, you increase your danger of:

  • Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
  • Experiencing social isolation or cognitive decline as a result of hearing loss.

There may 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 components of the ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.

Either way, volume is the primary factor, and both kinds of headphones can deliver hazardous levels of that.

It isn’t simply volume, it’s duration, also

Maybe you think there’s an easy solution: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Naturally, this would be a smart plan. But it may not be the complete answer.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at top volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at moderate volume for five hours could also damage your ears.

So here’s how you can be a bit safer when you listen:

  • Activate volume warnings on your device. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume gets a little too high. Of course, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Some smart devices allow you to reduce the max volume so you won’t even have to think about it.
  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Lower the volume.)
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Take frequent breaks. It’s best to take frequent and extended breaks.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, particularly earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss usually happens gradually over time not suddenly. Which means, you might not even notice it happening, 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 permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear become irreversibly destroyed because of noise).

The damage accumulates slowly over time, and it usually starts as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL difficult to detect. It might be getting slowly worse, all the while, you believe it’s perfectly fine.

There is currently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. However, there are treatments created to offset and decrease some of the most considerable effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to counter the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a significant 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:

  • When you’re not using your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. Avoid overly loud settings whenever you can.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t have to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.
  • Having your hearing checked by us regularly is a good plan. We will help determine the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • 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.
  • If you do need to go into an overly loud setting, utilize hearing protection. Use earplugs, for instance.
  • When you’re listening to your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.

You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking actions to prevent hearing loss, particularly 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 toss my earbuds in the rubbish? Well, no. Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are not cheap!

But your strategy may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

Step one is to control the volume and duration of your listening. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

If you think you might have damage caused by overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.