Hearing Associates of Libertyville, IL

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever lost your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, accidentally left them in the pocket of a sweatshirt that went through the washer and dryer?) Now it’s so boring going for a run in the morning. Your commute or bus ride is dreary and dull. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers significantly.

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

So when you finally find or purchase a working pair of earbuds, you’re grateful. Now your life is full of completely clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are everywhere these days, and individuals use them for a lot more than only listening to their favorite tunes (though, obviously, they do that too).

Regrettably, partly because they’re so easy and so ubiquitous, earbuds present some considerable risks for your hearing. Your hearing could be in danger if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are different for numerous reasons

In previous years, you would require bulky, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-quality listening experience. All that has now changed. Awesome sound quality can be created in a very small space with contemporary earbuds. Back throughout the 2010s, smartphone manufacturers popularized these little devices by offering a pair with every new smartphone purchase (Currently, you don’t see that so much).

These little earbuds (frequently they even include microphones) began showing up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re taking calls, listening to tunes, or watching movies, earbuds are one of the main ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

It’s that combination of convenience, mobility, and reliability that makes earbuds useful in a large number of contexts. Lots of individuals use them pretty much all of the time consequently. And that’s become a bit of a problem.

It’s all vibrations

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re just waves of moving air molecules. Your brain will then classify the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this pursuit, your brain is given a big assist from your inner ear. Inside of your ear are tiny little hairs called stereocilia that vibrate when subjected to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re converted into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

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

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage as a result of 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 increase your risk of:

  • Not being able to communicate with your family and friends without wearing a hearing aid.
  • Repeated exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss contributing to mental decline and social isolation.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.

There may be a greater risk with earbuds than traditional headphones, according to some evidence. The idea here is that the sound is funneled directly toward the more sensitive parts of your ear. Some audiologists believe this while others still aren’t sure.

Either way, volume is the main consideration, and both kinds of headphones can create hazardous levels of that.

Duration is also a concern besides volume

Maybe you think there’s an easy fix: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just lower the volume. Naturally, this would be a smart idea. But there’s more to it than that.

The reason is that it’s not just the volume that’s the issue, it’s the duration. Think about it like this: listening at max volume for five minutes will damage your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours could also damage your ears.

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

  • If you are listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn down the volume.
  • Many smart devices let you lower the max volume so you won’t even need to worry about it.
  • Give yourself plenty of breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level warnings enabled. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume gets a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to reduce the volume.
  • As a general rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.

Your ears can be stressed by utilizing headphones, specifically earbuds. So give your ears a break. Because sensorineural hearing loss generally occurs slowly over time not immediately. Most of the time individuals don’t even recognize that it’s happening until it’s too late.

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

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 damaged due to noise).

The damage accumulates gradually over time, and it normally begins as very limited in scope. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. It might be getting slowly worse, all the while, you believe it’s just fine.

Sadly, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. But strategies (hearing aids most notably) do exist that can minimize the impact sensorineural hearing loss can have. These treatments, however, can’t counter the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal plan is prevention

That’s why so many hearing specialists put a significant focus on prevention. Here are some ways to continue to listen to your earbuds while reducing your risk of hearing loss with good prevention routines:

  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate 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 multiple types of headphones. That is, don’t wear earbuds all day every day. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones also.
  • When you’re not using your earbuds, reduce the amount of noise damage your ears are subjected to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Use volume-limiting apps on your phone and other devices.
  • If you do need to go into an overly noisy environment, utilize ear protection. Ear plugs, for example, work remarkably well.
  • Schedule regular visits with us to have your hearing tested. We will be capable of hearing you get tested and monitor the general health of your hearing.

You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking actions to prevent hearing loss, particularly NHIL. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do eventually 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? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get expensive.

But your strategy could need to be changed if you’re listening to your earbuds constantly. These earbuds could be damaging your hearing and you might not even recognize it. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. The second step is to speak with us about the state of your hearing right away.

Think you may have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get assessed now!

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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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