Have you ever left your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the laundry or maybe lost them altogether? All of a sudden, your morning jog is so much more boring. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor sound 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. Now your world is full of completely clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are everywhere nowadays, and individuals utilize them for a lot more than only listening to their favorite music (though, of course, they do that too).
Unfortunately, partly because they are so easy and so common, earbuds present some significant risks for your hearing. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in danger!
Earbuds are different for several reasons
It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a heavy, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That isn’t always the case now. Awesome 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 (funny enough, they’re somewhat rare nowadays when you buy a new phone).
In part because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they began showing up all over the place. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, 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, portability, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a wide variety of contexts. As a result, many consumers use them almost all the time. That’s where things get a little tricky.
Vibrations are what it’s all about
Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all basically the same thing. They’re just air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of interpreting those vibrations, sorting one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.
In this pursuit, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not big vibrations, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re converted into electrical signals by a nerve in your ear.
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 dangers of earbud use
Because of the popularity of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is quite 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 use earbuds at high volume, you increase your risk of:
- Going through social isolation or mental decline as a result of hearing loss.
- Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
- Repeated subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Needing to utilize a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
There could be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The thinking here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive components of your ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t sure.
Besides, what’s more significant is the volume, and any pair of headphones is able to deliver hazardous levels of sound.
Duration is also a concern besides volume
Perhaps you think there’s a simple fix: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll just lower the volume. Well… that would help. But there’s more to it than that.
This is because how long you listen is as important 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 might 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 minutes? Reduce the volume.)
- If you don’t want to think about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
- Enable volume warnings on your device. If your listening volume gets too high, a warning will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to reduce the volume.
- Give yourself plenty of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
- If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
- As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, particularly earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss generally occurs slowly over time not suddenly. Which means, you may not even acknowledge it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent
Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by overexposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.
The damage is scarcely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops gradually over time. NHIL can be difficult to identify as a result. It may be getting progressively worse, in the meantime, you believe it’s perfectly fine.
Unfortunately, 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 reverse the damage that’s been done.
This means prevention is the most useful strategy
That’s why so many hearing specialists put a substantial emphasis on prevention. Here are several ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while decreasing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:
- Change up the types of headphones you’re using. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones now and then. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
- Many headphones and earbuds incorporate noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this feature, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite so loud.
- Use hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Use earplugs, for example.
- Getting your hearing checked by us regularly is a smart plan. We will be able to help you get assessed and track the general health of your hearing.
- When you’re not using your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud situations.
- When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you protect 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?
So does all this mean you should find your nearest pair of earbuds and chuck them in the garbage? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.
But your approach could need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You may not even realize 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. Step two is to talk to us about the state of your hearing today.
If you believe you might have damage as a result of overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!