Can Your Hearing be Damaged 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 wash or maybe lost them altogether? Now it’s so boring going for a run in the morning. You have a dull and dreary commute to work. And the sound quality of your virtual meetings suffers considerably.

Often, you don’t realize how valuable something is until you have to live without 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 perfectly clear and vibrant audio, including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Earbuds have a lot of uses other than listening to tunes and a large percentage of people use them.

But, regrettably, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your hearing because so many people use them for so many listening tasks. Your hearing might be in jeopardy if you’re wearing earbuds a lot every day.

Why earbuds are unique

It used to be that if you wanted high-quality sound from a pair of headphones, you’d have to use a heavy, cumbersome pair of over-the-ear cans (yes, “cans” is jargon for headphones). That’s not necessarily the situation now. Contemporary earbuds can supply amazing sound in a very small space. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who included a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smart device sold throughout the 2010s (funny enough, they’re rather rare nowadays when you purchase a new phone).

These little earbuds (frequently they even include microphones) started to show up all over the place because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re talking on the phone, listening to tunes, or watching Netflix, earbuds are one of the primary ways to do that (whether you are on the go or not).

It’s that mixture of convenience, portability, and dependability that makes earbuds useful in a large number of contexts. As a result, many consumers use them pretty much all the time. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

It’s all vibrations

Here’s the thing: Music, podcasts, voice calls, they’re all basically the same thing. They’re just air molecules being vibrated by waves of pressure. Your brain will then organize the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this pursuit, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small 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’re transformed into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

It’s not what kind of sound but volume that causes hearing damage. Which means the risk is the same whether you’re listening to Death Metal or an NPR podcast.

What are the dangers of using earbuds?

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage due to loud noise is fairly prevalent. 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 utilize earbuds at high volume, you increase your danger of:

  • Hearing loss contributing to cognitive decline and social isolation.
  • Developing deafness due to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Needing to use a hearing aid in order to communicate with family and friends.
  • Repeated subjection increasing the advancement of sensorineural hearing loss.

There’s some evidence suggesting that using earbuds may present greater risks than using conventional headphones. The reason might be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive components of the 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 pair of headphones is capable of delivering hazardous levels of sound.

It isn’t only volume, it’s duration, as well

Maybe you think there’s a simple fix: I’ll simply turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Well… that would help. 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. Modest volume for five hours can be just as harmful 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 more turn down the volume.
  • Quit listening right away if you experience ringing in your ears or your ears start to hurt.
  • Take regular breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
  • It’s a good idea not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Activate volume alerts on your device. These warnings can inform you about when your listening volume gets a little too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to lower the volume.
  • If you don’t want to worry about it, you may even be able to change the maximum volume on your smart device.

Earbuds particularly, and headphones in general, can be kind of stressful for your ears. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (typically) develop all of a sudden; it progresses gradually and over time. Which means, you might not even acknowledge it happening, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent

Usually, NHIL, or noise-related hearing loss, is irreversible. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get destroyed by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.

The damage builds up gradually over time, and it normally begins as very limited in scope. NHIL can be hard to detect as a result. It may be getting progressively worse, in the meantime, you think it’s just fine.

Sadly, NIHL cannot be cured or reversed. Still, there are treatments created to mitigate and reduce some of the most significant impacts of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, are not able to reverse the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the most useful approach

This is why prevention is stressed 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 using your earbuds:

  • When you’re listening to your devices, use volume-limiting apps.
  • Many headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to utilize those. This will mean you won’t have to turn the volume quite so high in order to hear your media clearly.
  • When you’re not using your earbuds, minimize the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying extra attention to the sound of your environment or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Having your hearing checked by us routinely is a smart plan. We will help identify the overall health of your hearing by getting you screened.
  • Use hearing protection if you’re going to be around loud noises. Ear plugs, for instance, work remarkably well.
  • Change up the styles of headphones you’re wearing. Put simply, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones once in a while. Try using over-the-ear headphones also.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you protect 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?

So does all this mean you should grab your nearest pair of earbuds and chuck them in the garbage? Not Exactly! Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can get costly.

But it does mean that, if you’re listening to earbuds on a regular basis, you might want to consider changing your approach. You might not even realize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Your best defense, then, is knowing about the danger.

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. Step two is to speak with us about the state of your hearing today.

Think you might 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.


    Parkside Audiology

    Tampa, FL

    3825 Henderson Blvd
    Suite 600
    Tampa, FL 33629

    Call or Text: 813-686-6858

    Mon-Thu: 8am – 4:30pm
    Friday, By appointment only

    Tampa, FL Google Business Profile

    Schedule Online

    Find out how we can help!

    Call or Text Us