Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, accidentally left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the washer and dryer?) All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.
Often, you don’t realize how valuable something is until you have to live without it (yes, we are not being subtle around here today).
So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working set of earbuds. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people utilize them.
Unfortunately, partly because they are so easy and so common, earbuds present some significant risks for your hearing. If you’re using these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in jeopardy!
Earbuds are unique for a number of reasons
In previous years, you would require cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. That’s not always the case now. Contemporary earbuds can provide stunning sound in a very small space. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Presently, you don’t find that as much).
Partly because these sophisticated earbuds (with microphones, even) were so easily accessible, they started showing up all over the place. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re taking calls, streaming your favorite program, or listening to music.
Earbuds are useful in quite a few contexts because of their dependability, mobility, and convenience. Lots of people use them basically all of the time consequently. That’s where things get a little challenging.
Vibrations are what it’s all about
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 sort the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.
In this activity, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that vibrate when exposed to sound. These are not big vibrations, they’re very small. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. At this stage, there’s a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what lets your brain figure it all out.
This is important because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing damage, it’s volume. Which means the risk is the same whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR program.
What are the risks of using earbuds?
The risk of hearing damage is widespread because of the popularity 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 danger of:
- Continued exposure increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.
- Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without wearing a hearing aid.
- Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
- Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
There could be a greater risk with earbuds than conventional headphones, according to some evidence. The thinking here is that the sound is directed toward the more sensitive components of your ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t convinced.
Besides, what’s more significant is the volume, and any set of headphones is capable of delivering hazardous levels of sound.
It’s not only volume, it’s duration, also
You might be thinking, well, the fix is simple: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just reduce the volume. Obviously, this would be a good idea. But it might not be the complete solution.
This is because how long you listen is as important as how loud it is. Modest 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:
- Stop listening immediately if you hear ringing in your ears or your ears start to ache.
- If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen more turn down the volume.
- As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
- If you don’t want to worry about it, you might even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
- Be certain that your device has volume level warnings turned on. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Naturally, then it’s up to you to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
- Take regular breaks. The more breaks (and the longer duration they are), the better.
Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, specifically earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen all of a sudden; it progresses slowly and over time. Which means, you might not even acknowledge it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.
Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible
Noise-generated Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreparably destroyed due to noise).
The damage builds up gradually over time, and it usually begins as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL hard to detect. It may be getting progressively worse, all the while, you believe it’s perfectly fine.
Unfortunately, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can minimize the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. But the overall damage that’s being done, regrettably, is permanent.
So the best plan is prevention
That’s why so many hearing specialists put a considerable focus on prevention. Here are several ways to keep listening to your earbuds while decreasing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention practices:
- Use multiple types of headphones. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
- Make routine visits with us to have your hearing tested. We will be capable of hearing you get screened and track the general health of your hearing.
- Utilize earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. This will mean you won’t have to crank the volume quite so loud so that you can hear your media clearly.
- Use volume-restricting apps on your phone and other devices.
- Wear hearing protection if you’re going to be subject to loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.
- Reduce the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not wearing earbuds. Avoid overly loud settings whenever possible.
Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you protect your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do end up requiring treatment, like hearing aids, they will be more effective.
So… are earbuds the enemy?
So does all this mean you should grab your nearest pair of earbuds and throw them in the trash? Not Exactly! Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little gizmos are expensive!
But your approach may need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. You might not even realize that your hearing is being harmed by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is knowing about the danger.
Step one is to control the volume and duration of your listening. Step two is to talk to us about the state of your hearing right away.
If you believe you may have damage because of overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!