You see people with earbuds in their ears practically everywhere: on public transportation, in the line at the bank or even sitting in the doctor’s office. The prevalence of smartphones means people can listen to their favorite podcasts or tunes on the go without disturbing anyone. You, however, need to be careful with them. Simply using earbuds from time to time won’t necessarily lead to hearing damage and a life of using hearing aids. You do, however, need to ensure you don’t turn the volume up any louder than you have to.
How earbuds can cause hearing loss
A 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association linked the use of headphones and earbuds to a significant increase in hearing loss in young people. This is because many young people like to listen to music at loud volumes. Unfortunately, loud noises so close to the ears can cause noise-induced hearing loss.
It helps to understand the processes involved in hearing. When sound waves reach the ear, they cause the eardrum to vibrate. Several small bones transmit this vibration to the inner ear until it reaches the cochlea. This is a chamber in the ear which is filled with fluid and lots of small hair-like fibers. The fluid vibrates and makes the hairs move. The louder the sound, the more the hairs move.
When you listen to loud sounds for long periods, as you may with earbuds, the hair cells become less sensitive to vibrations. They can even bend or fold over. If you’ve ever attended a loud concert or heard a loud sound and experienced temporary hearing loss, this was the process involved. The hair cells take some time to recover. In cases of permanent hearing loss, the cells never recover. There is no cure for damaged inner ears.
You should be careful about how often you use earbuds even you don’t turn them up to the highest volume. Moderate volume can damage your hearing if you keep the earbuds in for very long periods. Louder noises can cause hearing loss to occur more quickly, but you shouldn’t estimate the impact of prolonged use at moderate volumes.
How to avoid hearing damage from earbuds
It isn’t that hard to avoid damaging your hearing when using earbuds. You may just need to break some of your habits. Start by simply turning down the volume. If you can hear the song clearly, it’s loud enough. You don’t need to create a party atmosphere in your ears.
If you usually turn up the volume to drown out other sounds, you should invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. These block out external sounds but still allow you to maintain a safe volume level. Headphones are a better option than earbuds in any case. They provide a little more distance between your eardrums and the speakers.
You should also reduce your listening time. Try not to listen to any audio at more than 60 percent of the maximum volume for more than 60 minutes. If your ears are already damaged, they may never recover but taking precautions can help prevent your condition from getting worse.
The bottom line: Earbuds themselves won’t damage your hearing but loud volumes will. Avoid listening to loud audio and try to reduce the amount of time you spend with earbuds in. If you suspect you have hearing damage, consult a medical professional.