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 so much more boring. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers significantly.
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 when you finally find or purchase a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. 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 simply listening to their favorite music (though, of course, they do that too).
But, regrettably, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your ears because so many people are using them for so many listening activities. Your hearing might be in danger if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.
Earbuds are unique for a number of reasons
In previous years, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s not necessarily the situation now. Incredible sound quality can be created in a really small space with modern earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Presently, you don’t see that as much).
These little earbuds (sometimes they even include 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 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, portability, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a large number of contexts. As a result, many consumers use them almost all the time. And that’s become somewhat of a problem.
It’s all vibrations
Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all essentially the same thing. They’re simply air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of translating those vibrations, grouping one kind of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.
Your inner ear is the mediator for this process. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs called stereocilia that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not big vibrations, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized 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 significant 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
The danger of hearing damage is widespread 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:
- Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
- Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
- Not being able to communicate with your friends and family without using a hearing aid.
- Sensorineural hearing loss resulting in deafness.
There might 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. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t sure.
Either way, volume is the biggest factor, and both kinds of headphones can deliver hazardous levels of that.
It isn’t simply volume, it’s duration, too
Perhaps you think there’s a simple fix: I’ll just lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes straight. Naturally, this would be a good plan. But it might not be the complete solution.
This is because how long you listen is as important as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at max 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 little safer when you listen:
- As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
- Many smart devices let you decrease the max volume so you won’t even have to think about it.
- Take regular breaks. It’s best to take frequent and extended breaks.
- Activate volume warnings on your device. If your listening volume gets too high, a warning will alert you. Of course, then it’s your job to lower your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
- If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
- Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Reduce the volume.)
Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, especially earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop suddenly; it occurs gradually and over time. Most of the time individuals don’t even recognize that it’s occurring until it’s too late.
Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible
Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never recover.
The damage is barely noticeable, especially in the early stages, and progresses gradually over time. That can make NIHL hard to recognize. You may think your hearing is just fine, all the while it is slowly getting worse and worse.
Sadly, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments designed 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, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.
So the best strategy is prevention
This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. Here are several ways to keep listening to your earbuds while decreasing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:
- Limit the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you are not wearing earbuds. Avoid exceedingly loud settings whenever possible.
- Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
- Some headphones and earbuds incorporate noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. This will mean you won’t need to crank the volume quite so loud in order to hear your media clearly.
- Use hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Use earplugs, for example.
- Switch up the types of headphones you’re wearing. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones once in a while. Try using over-the-ear headphones as well.
- Make regular visits with us to get your hearing examined. We will be able to help you get screened and track the overall health of your hearing.
Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you preserve your sense of hearing for years longer. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately need them.
So… are earbuds the enemy?
So does all this mean you should grab your nearest set of earbuds and chuck them in the trash? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be costly.
But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds on a regular basis, you might want to think about changing your approach. You might not even recognize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.
When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. The second step is to talk to us about the state of your hearing today.
If you believe you may have damage due to overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!