Earbud Use Could Harm Your Hearing

Jesse Western
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Among the many technological advancements of recent decades, portable audio has changed our daily lives in profound ways. Whereas watching television or a video, listening to a book on tape, or playing music required us to be at home in a position where it is possible to hear, now we can do all of these things while we’re on the go. The uptick in podcast subscriptions adds even more traveling listeners to the cadre of people using portable audio. 

Social media makes use of audio along with videos, and so many of us use headphones and earbuds to check in with our friends, as well. With all of these opportunities to listen while we move through the day, some people seem to live with earbuds in their ears. Whether taking a call for work or listening to an audiobook during a commute, many of us use our earbuds for a good portion of the day, and we don’t yet know all the implications of this massive change in human behavior. 

A few studies can lead us to believe that the effects of extended headphone and earbud use are not all good. Younger people are being diagnosed with hearing loss at far higher rates than prior generations. Although we don’t know specifically that earbuds are to blame, the use of portable audio is one of the biggest changes to young lives when it comes to noise exposure. 

Let’s take a look at the ways that earbud use might be able to cause hearing loss, as well as what you can do to make sure you are not bringing it upon yourself through recreational noise. 


Earbuds and Hearing Ability

When we use earbuds, we are amplifying sound directly into our inner ears. Rather than playing sound in a room where we can get a sense of the balance of sound among other competing sounds—such as voices, outside traffic, or a telephone ringer—earbuds bypass the spatial dimensions of sound and proceed directly to our inner ears. Without context to understand how loud a sound has become, it is easy to play music or other audio at an enormously high volume. Particularly when there is competing sound to contend with, headphones and earbuds can add to that existing noise and try to drown it out with the sound from our devices. 

Take, for example, a train ride home. Many trains are very loud on their own, pushing the decibel level in the direction of the risk of hearing loss if one were to ride day in and day out. However, if you use earbuds on a loud subway or another passenger train, you are adding the sound of your audio to the existing volume on that mode of transportation. If you have ever returned from your commute and put your earbud in while at home in a quiet location, you might notice just how loud they had become. 

If you ever approach maximum volume on your earbuds, the maximum allowable amount of time to avoid the risk of hearing loss might only be a few minutes. On the contrary, many of us wear earbuds for much longer periods of time, even the entire duration of a feature film. With such loud sound over a long duration of time, it is no wonder that we are seeing an increased risk of hearing loss. 


Protecting Your Hearing

The good news is that there are things you can do to protect your hearing from damage, even while using earbuds. You might want to set a maximum volume for yourself at somewhere around 75 percent of the total capacity. Some sounds can reach a level of 100 decibels at maximum volume, which can only be endured for a very brief time without risking damage. 

Apps are available to limit the maximum setting that you can employ without getting a warning notification. In addition, keep an eye on the duration of use. If you find yourself using headphones for an entire feature film, why not use a speaker to play that sound in the room. Most likely you will be unable to play it so loud that it would damage your hearing without causing a disturbance, and that social limitation is a good thing for your hearing health.

If you are concerned about your hearing abilities, why not schedule a hearing test? Contact us today to learn more.