Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, maybe, inadvertently left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the laundry?) Now it’s so boring going for a jog in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.
Often, you don’t grasp how valuable something is until you’ve lost it (yes, we are not being discreet around here today).
So when you finally find or buy a working pair of earbuds, you’re grateful. The world is instantly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of individuals utilize them.
But, regrettably, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your ears because so many people are using them for so many listening tasks. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in jeopardy!
Earbuds are different for several reasons
In the past, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. All that has now changed. Fabulous sound quality can be produced in a really small space with modern earbuds. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (At present, 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 available. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the primary ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).
It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and reliability that makes earbuds practical in a large number of contexts. Lots of individuals use them basically all of the time as a result. And that’s become a bit of a problem.
It’s all vibrations
Essentially, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the work of interpreting those vibrations, organizing one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.
Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. There are tiny hairs along your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are 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 risks of earbud use
Because of the popularity of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is very prevalent. 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 utilize earbuds at high volume, you increase your danger of:
- Going through social isolation or mental decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
- Continued exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
- Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
There may be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive components of your ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.
Besides, what’s more important is the volume, and any set of headphones is capable of delivering dangerous levels of sound.
It’s not only volume, it’s duration, also
Perhaps you think there’s a simple solution: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Well… that would help. But it may not be the complete solution.
This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as damaging as max volume for five minutes.
So here’s how you can be a bit safer when you listen:
- Many smart devices let you reduce the max volume so you won’t even need to worry about it.
- Enable volume alerts on your device. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume gets a bit too high. Naturally, then it’s up to you to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
- Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Reduce the volume.)
- Take regular breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
- If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
- As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
Earbuds particularly, and headphones generally, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) develop all of a sudden; it occurs gradually and over time. Most of the time individuals don’t even realize that it’s occurring until it’s too late.
Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible
Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by overexposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.
The damage is barely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. NHIL can be hard to identify as a result. It might be getting gradually worse, in the meantime, you think it’s just fine.
There is currently no cure or ability to reverse NIHL. Still, there are treatments designed to mitigate and minimize some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the total damage that’s being done, unfortunately, is permanent.
So the ideal plan is prevention
That’s why so many hearing specialists place a considerable focus 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:
- Use earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite as loud.
- Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not using earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud situations.
- Change up the types of headphones you’re using. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be used sometimes.
- Having your hearing tested by us routinely is a good plan. We will be able to help you get tested and monitor the general health of your hearing.
- Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Ear plugs, for example, work quite well.
- When you’re using your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
You will be able to preserve your sense of hearing for many years by taking measures to prevent hearing loss, especially NHIL. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately need them.
So… are earbuds the enemy?
Well…should I just chuck my earbuds in the trash? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are not cheap!
But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you may want to consider varying your strategy. You might not even realize that your hearing is being damaged 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. The second step is to speak with us about the state of your hearing today.
Think you might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get assessed now!