A pair of earbuds

Earbud Use Could Harm Your Hearing

Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D.
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In 2011, the American Medical Association released a report that revealed the fast-growing prevalence of hearing loss for people between the ages of 12 and 19 years of age due to long term exposure and high-volume usage of headphones and earbuds. It is a common sight these days to see people with earbuds in place at all times either speaking on the phone or listening to music or a podcast. At this point, we are all becoming aware of the dangers of long-term exposure to sound via earbuds. The following will provide you with more detailed insight as to how and why noise exposure leads to the loss of hearing both temporarily and permanently.

Volume and length of exposure time are the culprits

Volume is the obvious danger. Loud noises of any kind are damaging to our inner ears where sounds are transmitted directly to the brain. Sound at a high volume from a small set of speakers placed in your ears proves to be a potent mix and results in a negative impact on our hearing health.

Sound travels from our outer ear to our inner ear where the cochlea is located. This snail-like organ known as the cochlea is lined with many tiny hairs called cilia and filled with fluid.

As sound waves travel into the cochlea where they cause the fluid to vibrate it sets the cilia in motion. These thousands of tiny hairs play an important role in the transmission of sound from the cochlea to the auditory nerve and directly into our brain where the sound information is interpreted and relayed to us.

It is important to note that the stronger the vibrations that enter the cochlea the stronger the motion of the sound carrying sensitive hairs. The louder the sound the more the cilia bend to the vibrations of the sound waves. This exposure could lead to permanent noise-induced hearing loss.

The increased volume on its own or coupled with lengthened exposure time can cause irreparable damage to the sensitivity of the cilia. For example, if you go to a rock concert and are exposed to a high decibel (sound measurement) environment for hours you might experience “temporary hearing loss” the next day.  Your ears can recuperate dependent upon the exposure time, volume and the health of your ears. However, you can also incur the same damage from wearing earbuds even at a suggested “safe” volume if you wear them all day every day!

The role of earbuds in the loss of your hearing

It is advisable to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones if it is necessary for you to be mobile or are in public spaces when you use your audio devices. Bear in mind that when they are misused or overused the negative impact on your hearing can and will occur. The danger lies in the prevalence of the use of earbuds and how they have become an integral part of our daily lives. As we travel to work, we have to be more mindful of the effects of noise in our immediate environments.  The damage that a jackhammer or a motorbike causes when delivered in volume and in blasts is still comparable to the steady use of earbuds on our commute home or sitting and waiting at a doctor’s office.

The length and duration of loud sounds damage the cilia as they fold under the intensity of the vibrations of the sound waves. Sometimes they can recover and other times they cannot. This is when “noise-induced hearing loss” can set in permanently. Wearing earbuds even at a safe volume will over time cause irreparable damage to the cilia.

It is crucial to stress the fact that long-time exposure to sound from your earbuds can be equivocal to brief explosive noises like firecrackers and car horns. Simply put wearing earbuds in a safe manner will cause hearing loss when used for long periods of time. Loudness is not the only culprit. Currently, there is no known cure for noise-induced hearing loss. However, treatment for hearing loss is available.

Change your hearing practices

Exit loud situations where you are straining to hear a conversation.  Use and carry earplugs if you are unable to relocate from excessively loud environments. Try and incorporate the 60/60 rule for your hearing devices. Keep the volume at 60 and listen for only 60 minutes a day.

If you are consistently exposed to high levels of noise, it is important to make an annual hearing test a part of your healthcare regimen.

Beverly Hills Hearing Center

We invite you to join us at Beverly Hills Hearing Center to start the healing and nurturing of your hearing health. If you or someone close to you is experiencing difficulty hearing and everyday activities are becoming a strain, we urge you to give us a call and make the first appointment as a step towards a fuller, healthier life of hearing.