Can Your Hearing be Harmed by Earbuds?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever misplaced your earbuds? (Or, perhaps, unintentionally left them in the pocket of a pullover that went through the washer and dryer?) Now it’s so boring going for a run in the morning. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor audio quality.

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 when you finally find or purchase a working set of earbuds, you’re thankful. The world is instantly dynamic again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds have so many uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people utilize them.

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some considerable risks to your hearing because so many people are using them for so many listening activities. Your hearing could be in danger if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are different for numerous reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality audio from a set of headphones, you’d have to adopt a heavy, cumbersome set of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). All that has now changed. Modern earbuds can supply amazing sound in a tiny space. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smartphone sold throughout the 2010s (funny enough, they’re somewhat rare nowadays when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (frequently they even have microphones) started to show up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or hanging out at home, earbuds are one of the principal ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite program, or listening to music.

Earbuds are practical in quite a few contexts because of their dependability, portability, and convenience. Consequently, many people use them virtually all the time. That’s where things get a little challenging.

It’s all vibrations

This is the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all in essence the same thing. They’re simply waves of vibrating air molecules. Your brain will then sort 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 vibrate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are infinitesimal, they’re tiny. These vibrations are recognized by your inner ear. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they are converted into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

This is important because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing damage, it’s volume. Which means the risk is equivalent whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.

The dangers of earbud use

Because of the appeal of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is pretty prevalent. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

On an individual level, when you use earbuds at high volume, you increase your danger of:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your friends and family without using a hearing aid.
  • Going through social isolation or mental decline due to hearing loss.
  • Experiencing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.

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 components of your ear. But the jury’s still out on this, and not all audiologists are on board.

Besides, what’s more relevant is the volume, and any set of headphones is able to deliver dangerous levels of sound.

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You may be thinking, well, the solution is easy: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Of course, 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 issue, it’s the duration. Modest volume for five hours can be equally as damaging as top volume for five minutes.

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

  • If you’re listening at 80% volume, listen for a maximum of 90 minutes, and if you want to listen longer turn down the volume.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately stop listening.
  • 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 plenty of breaks. It’s best to take regular and extended breaks.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Enable volume warnings on your device. If your listening volume goes too high, a notification will alert you. Of course, then it’s up to you to adjust your volume, but it’s better than nothing!

Earbuds particularly, and headphones generally, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss typically happens gradually over time not suddenly. Which means, you may not even observe it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is permanent. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreversibly destroyed due to noise).

The damage builds up gradually over time, and it normally starts 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 gradually getting worse and worse.

Unfortunately, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments designed to mitigate and minimize some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). But the total damage that’s being done, regrettably, is irreversible.

This means prevention is the best strategy

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

  • Reduce the amount of damage your ears are experiencing while you are not wearing earbuds. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud scenarios.
  • Schedule routine visits with us to have your hearing tested. We will be able to help you get tested and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • Use other kinds of headphones. That is, don’t use earbuds all day every day. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.
  • If you do need to go into an overly noisy setting, utilize ear protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.
  • Use earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling technology. With this function, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite so loud.
  • Use volume-controlling apps on your phone and other devices.

You will be able to protect your sense of hearing for many years by taking steps to prevent hearing loss, especially NHIL. And, if you do wind up requiring 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 chuck them in the trash? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get expensive.

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds regularly, you might want to consider varying your approach. These earbuds may be damaging your hearing and you might not even recognize it. Being aware of the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

When you listen, regulate the volume, that’s the first step. 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!

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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