Can Your Hearing be Harmed by Earbuds?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever left your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the laundry or maybe lost them altogether? Now it’s so boring going for a jog in the morning. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor audio quality.

Sometimes, you don’t recognize how valuable something is until you’ve lost it (yes, we are not being subtle around here today).

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. The world is instantly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear audio. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to music and a large percentage of individuals use them.

Unfortunately, partly because they’re so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some considerable risks for your hearing. Your hearing might be at risk if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Why earbuds are unique

In previous years, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That isn’t always the case now. Contemporary earbuds can provide fantastic sound in a tiny space. They were made popular by smartphone makers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (Presently, you don’t see that as much).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even have microphones) began showing up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re talking on the phone, streaming your favorite program, or listening to tunes.

It’s that mixture of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds useful in a wide variety of contexts. Lots of people use them basically all of the time consequently. And that’s become a bit of an issue.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Basically, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re simply waves of moving air molecules. Your brain will then sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this activity, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs called stereocilia that oscillate when subjected to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. At this stage, there’s a nerve in your ear that translates those vibrations into electrical impulses, and that’s what allows your brain to make heads or tails of it all.

It’s not what kind 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.

The risks of earbud use

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage due to loud noise is fairly widespread. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

Using earbuds can raise your danger of:

  • Developing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Needing to utilize a hearing aid in order to communicate with friends and loved ones.
  • Going through social isolation or cognitive decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds may introduce greater risks than using regular headphones. The reason might be that earbuds direct 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 pair of headphones is capable of delivering hazardous levels of sound.

Duration is also a concern besides volume

You might be thinking, well, the solution is simple: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just reduce the volume. Naturally, this would be a good plan. But it might not be the complete solution.

The reason is that it’s not only the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Modest volume for five hours can be just as harmful as top volume for five minutes.

When you listen, here are a few ways to make it safer:

  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Take regular breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.
  • If your ears start to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Make sure that your device has volume level warnings turned on. If your listening volume gets too high, a warning will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to lower the volume.
  • Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)
  • Many smart devices let you reduce the max volume so you won’t even have to think about it.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones in general, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) happen suddenly; it progresses slowly 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

Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by overexposure to loud sound, they can never recover.

The damage accumulates gradually over time, and it usually begins as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL hard to detect. You might think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it is slowly getting worse and worse.

Unfortunately, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can mitigate 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 approach

This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. Here are several ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re wearing. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Try using over-the-ear headphones too.
  • Make routine visits with us to have your hearing examined. We will help establish the general health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for example, work quite well.
  • Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Control the amount of damage your ears are encountering while you’re not using earbuds. Avoid overly loud environments whenever possible.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling technology. This will mean you won’t need to crank the volume quite so loud in order to hear your media clearly.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you safeguard your sense of hearing for years longer. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do eventually need them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

So does all this mean you should find your nearest pair of earbuds and throw them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get costly.

But your strategy may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. You might not even recognize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Being aware of 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 because of overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!

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.


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