Hearing Services of Nashville

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever forgotten 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. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

The old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies here.

So when you finally find or purchase a working pair of earbuds, you’re thankful. Now your world is full of perfectly clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of individuals utilize them.

Unfortunately, in part because they are so easy and so widely used, earbuds present some significant risks for your ears. If you’re wearing these devices all day every day, you might be putting your hearing in danger!

Earbuds are unique for numerous reasons

In previous years, you would need bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. That’s all now changed. Awesome sound quality can be created in a really small space with modern earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone makers popularized these little devices by supplying a pair with every new smartphone purchase (amusing enough, they’re pretty rare these days when you buy a new phone).

Partly because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up everywhere. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to music, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

Earbuds are useful in a number of contexts because of their reliability, mobility, and convenience. As a result, many people use them pretty much 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 basically the same thing. They’re simply air molecules being moved 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 are not huge vibrations, they’re tiny. These vibrations are distinguished by your inner ear. At that point, you have a nerve in your ear that converts those vibrations into electrical signals, and that’s what lets your brain figure it all out.

It’s not what type of sound but volume that results in hearing damage. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is the same.

The dangers of earbud use

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the risk of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is fairly prevalent. 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:

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

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The reason may be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t convinced.

Besides, what’s more important is the volume, and any set of headphones is capable of delivering hazardous levels of sound.

It’s not just volume, it’s duration, as well

You may be thinking, well, the solution is simple: I’ll simply lower the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite program for 24 episodes in a row. Well… that would be helpful. But there’s more to it than that.

The reason is that it’s not simply the volume that’s the problem, it’s the duration. Moderate volume for five hours can be just as damaging as max volume for five minutes.

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

  • Make use of the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Reduce the volume.)
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Give yourself lots of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • Enable volume warnings on your device. If your listening volume gets too high, a notification will alert you. Naturally, then it’s up to you to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!
  • Stop listening right away if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones in general, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally occurs slowly over time not suddenly. Most of the time individuals don’t even recognize that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

There is no cure and no way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually irreversible. 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 is hardly noticeable, especially in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. NHIL can be difficult to detect as a result. You may think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it’s gradually getting worse and worse.

Regrettably, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments designed to mitigate and minimize some of the most considerable impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the total damage that’s being done, unfortunately, is irreversible.

This means prevention is the most useful strategy

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

  • Use earbuds and headphones that have noise-canceling tech. With this function, you will be able to hear your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite so loud.
  • If you do have to go into an overly loud environment, utilize ear protection. Wear earplugs, for instance.
  • Limit the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you’re not using earbuds. Avoid exceedingly loud settings whenever you can.
  • Getting your hearing checked by us routinely is a smart plan. We will help determine the overall health of your hearing by having you screened.
  • Switch up the types of headphones you’re using. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones once in a while. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • When you’re using your devices, make use of volume-limiting apps.

Preventing hearing loss, particularly NIHL, can help you safeguard your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do wind up needing treatment, such as 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 throw them in the trash? Well, no. Especially not if you have those Apple AirPods, those little devices are expensive!

But your strategy could need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds could be damaging your hearing and you might not even notice it. Knowing 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 as a result of overuse of earbuds, call us right away! We Can Help!

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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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