Can Your Ears be Harmed by Earbuds?

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? All of a sudden, your morning jog is a million times more boring. Your commute or train ride is dreary and dull. And your virtual meetings are suffering from poor sound quality.

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

So you’re so happy when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. Now your life is full of completely clear and vibrant sound, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds are everywhere nowadays, and individuals utilize them for so much more than only listening to their favorite songs (though, naturally, they do that too).

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

Earbuds are different for numerous reasons

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to adopt a heavy, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That isn’t always the situation now. Modern earbuds can provide stunning sound in a very small space. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with pretty much every smartphone sold all through the 2010s (funny enough, they’re somewhat rare these days when you purchase a new phone).

Partly because these high-quality earbuds (with microphones, even) were so readily available, they started showing up all over the place. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re talking on the phone, viewing your favorite show, or listening to music.

It’s that mixture of convenience, mobility, and dependability that makes earbuds practical in a wide variety of contexts. As a result, many consumers use them virtually all the time. And that’s become a bit of an issue.

Vibrations are what it’s all about

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all basically the same thing. They’re just waves of moving air molecules. It’s your brain that does all the heavy lifting of translating those vibrations, organizing one type of vibration into the “music” category and another into the “voice” category.

In this pursuit, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. There are tiny hairs inside of your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These are not big vibrations, they’re very small. Your inner ear is what really identifies these vibrations. 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.

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

The risks of earbud use

The danger of hearing damage is widespread 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:

  • Developing sensorineural hearing loss with repeated exposure.
  • Going through social isolation or cognitive decline as a consequence of hearing loss.
  • Advancing deafness caused by sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Not being capable of communicating with your family and friends without using a hearing aid.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may present greater risks than using conventional headphones. The reason may be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components of the ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t sure.

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

Duration is also an issue besides volume

You may be thinking, well, the solution is simple: While I’m binging all 24 episodes of my favorite streaming show, I’ll just reduce the volume. Well… that would be helpful. But it might not be the complete answer.

This is because how long you listen is as significant as how loud it is. Think about it like this: listening at max volume for five minutes will harm your ears. But listening at medium volume for five hours could also harm your ears.

So here’s how you can be somewhat safer when you listen:

  • Give yourself lots of breaks. The more breaks (and the longer length they are), the better.
  • Many smart devices let you lower the max volume so you won’t even need to worry about it.
  • Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more minutes? Reduce the volume.)
  • As a basic rule of thumb, only listen to your media at 40-50% volume.
  • If your ears begin to experience pain or ringing, immediately quit listening.
  • Be certain that your device has volume level alerts enabled. These warnings can let you know when your listening volume goes a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your task to lower the volume.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones generally, can be pretty stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. Because sensorineural hearing loss normally occurs slowly over time not suddenly. The majority of the time people don’t even notice that it’s occurring until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

Typically, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. That’s because it’s sensorineural in nature (meaning, the cells in your ear are irreparably damaged due to noise).

The damage is barely noticeable, particularly in the early stages, and develops slowly over time. That can make NIHL difficult to recognize. You might think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it’s gradually getting worse and worse.

Sadly, NIHL can’t be cured or reversed. However, there are treatments created to mitigate and reduce some of the most significant effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most prevalent of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

So the ideal strategy is prevention

This is why prevention is emphasized by so many hearing specialists. And there are a number of ways to reduce your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • Use volume-controlling apps on your phone and other devices.
  • Utilize earbuds and headphones that incorporate noise-canceling technology. With this function, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without needing to turn it up quite as loud.
  • When you’re not wearing your earbuds, reduce the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. Avoid excessively loud settings whenever you can.
  • Make routine visits with us to get your hearing checked. We will help identify the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • If you do have to go into an overly loud setting, utilize hearing protection. Ear plugs, for instance, work quite well.
  • Switch up the styles of headphones you’re using. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other kinds of headphones now and then. Over-the-ear headphones can also be sometimes used.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you safeguard your sense of hearing for years longer. It can also help make treatments such as hearing aids more effective when you do ultimately need them.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just throw my earbuds in the trash? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get costly.

But your strategy may need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. These earbuds could be damaging your hearing and you may not even realize it. Your best defense, then, is being aware of the danger.

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 might have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get assessed now!

The content of this blog is the intellectual property of and is reprinted here with permission. The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive a hearing aid consultation, call today to schedule an appointment.