Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, maybe, accidentally left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the laundry?) Now it’s so boring going for a walk in the morning. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from bad audio quality.
The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies here.
So when you finally find or buy a working pair of earbuds, you’re grateful. The world is suddenly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are all over the place nowadays, and individuals utilize them for so much more than simply listening to their favorite songs (though, naturally, they do that too).
But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your ears because so many people use them for so many listening activities. Your hearing could be in jeopardy if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.
Why earbuds are unique
In the past, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. All that has now changed. Modern earbuds can supply stunning sound in a very small space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Presently, you don’t find that so much).
These little earbuds (sometimes they even have microphones) began showing up all over the place because they were so high-quality and available. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to music, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the primary ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).
Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their reliability, portability, and convenience. Lots of people use them basically all of the time consequently. That’s where things get a bit challenging.
It’s all vibrations
This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all basically the same thing. They’re just air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. Your brain will then organize the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.
Your inner ear is the intermediary for this process. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what really identifies these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are converted into electrical impulses 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 the same.
What are the dangers of using earbuds?
The danger of hearing damage is prevalent 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.
On an individual level, when you use earbuds at high volume, you raise your risk of:
- Advancing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
- Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
- Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with continued exposure.
- Needing to utilize a hearing aid so that you can communicate with family and friends.
There could 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 components of the ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are convinced.
Besides, what’s more important is the volume, and any set of headphones is able to deliver hazardous levels of sound.
It isn’t simply volume, it’s duration, too
Perhaps you think there’s an easy fix: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming program, I’ll simply reduce the volume. Naturally, this would be a smart idea. But it might not be the complete solution.
The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Moderate volume for five hours can be equally as harmful as top volume for five minutes.
When you listen, here are some ways to make it safer:
- It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
- Some smart devices allow you to lower the max volume so you won’t even need to worry about it.
- Enable volume warnings on your device. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
- Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Reduce the volume.)
- Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
- Stop listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, particularly earbuds. So give your ears a break. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen suddenly; it occurs slowly and over time. Most of the time individuals don’t even realize that it’s occurring until it’s too late.
There is no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss
Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is typically irreversible. 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 be restored.
The damage is hardly noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and progresses slowly over time. NHIL can be hard to identify as a result. You might think your hearing is just fine, all the while it’s slowly getting worse and worse.
There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. Still, there are treatments designed to offset and minimize some of the most significant 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 strategy is prevention
That’s why so many hearing specialists put a considerable focus on prevention. And there are a number of ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while using your earbuds:
- When you’re not using your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your environment or steering clear of overly loud situations.
- Use multiple types of headphones. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones now and then. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
- Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t need to turn the volume quite so high so that you can hear your media clearly.
- Make regular visits with us to have your hearing examined. We will be capable of hearing you get assessed and track the overall health of your hearing.
- When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.
- Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Wear earplugs, for instance.
You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking actions to prevent hearing loss, especially NHIL. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately require them.
So… are earbuds the enemy?
So does all this mean you should grab your nearest pair of earbuds and throw them in the garbage? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be costly.
But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you might want to think about changing your strategy. These earbuds may be harming your hearing and you might not even realize it. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.
When you listen, limit the volume, that’s the first step. But speaking with us about the state of your hearing is the next step.
If you think you may have damage caused by overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!