December 28, 2022

Beware The Hidden Dangers Of Headphones And Earbuds

Earbuds and headphones have become increasingly popular in recent years. Advancements in technology have made them smaller, more comfortable, and more portable than ever before. This has made them a convenient and easy-to-use option for listening to music, taking calls, and more on the go. What's more, the proliferation of smartphones and other portable devices has increased the demand for earbuds and headphones, as more and more people are using these devices to listen to music, podcasts, and other audio content. 

While these devices undoubtedly have many benefits, they can also risk our hearing health. According to the World Health Organization, roughly one billion young people are at risk of hearing loss due to noise-related damage. This is particularly true of today's younger people, who are increasingly turning to online sources of entertainment.

Cilia: Hairs that help us hear

The main problem with too much noise is its effect on our Cilia.

Cilia are tiny hair-like structures that are found in our inner ear. They are crucial for hearing because they help to pick up sound waves that are eventually turned into electrical signals that can be interpreted by the brain.

Exposure to excessive noise can damage the cilia on these cells, leading to hearing loss. This can happen gradually with prolonged exposure to loud noises (as is often the case with hearing devices), or it can happen suddenly with a loud, sudden noise. In either case, damaged cilia can lead to hearing loss and other problems with the auditory system.

Earbuds and headphones can damage your hearing if they are used at high volumes for extended periods. However, earbuds are often considered more dangerous because they are inserted directly into the ear canal, where they can cause more damage to the inner ear's cilia.

Are you cranking the volume in these settings?

In many situations, someone might turn up the volume on their hearing devices to drown out the sound around them. Some examples include:

  • In a noisy environment, such as a crowded train or bus
  • While working in an open office space with a lot of background noise
  • During a workout where there is a lot of pumping music and movement
  • In a crowded coffee shop or other public space
  • While studying or working from home with other people present
  • While traveling and trying to block out the sound of an airplane or other public transportation

In all of these situations, the desire to block out external noises can lead people to turn up the volume on their hearing devices, damaging their hearing over time.

How to stay safe with Earbuds and Headphones

Use noise-canceling headphones

Noise-canceling headphones work by using microphones to capture the noise around you, and then producing an opposite version of the sound. This is fed into the headphones, effectively canceling out the noise. The best noise-canceling headphones combine this active noise cancellation with passive noise reduction, which uses physical barriers and dampers to block or absorb noise.

The technology means you can listen to music or other audio at a lower volume because you won't need to crank up the volume to drown out the noise around you. This can help to protect your hearing health, as listening to music or other audio at high volumes for extended periods can cause hearing loss. Additionally, using noise-canceling headphones can make it easier to focus on what you are listening to, making it more enjoyable to listen to at lower volumes.

Be responsible when using earbuds.

Most smartphones now have a volume limit option that keeps the maximum volume of the output of the device below a certain threshold. This is useful for stopping yourself from absent-mindedly cranking the volume in noisy situations. 

You should also follow the 60/60 rule. This guideline recommends that people keep the volume of their personal audio devices, such as headphones or earbuds, at 60% of the maximum volume and limit their use to no more than 60 minutes per day. 

How to tell if you have noise-induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss can be difficult to notice, as it typically occurs gradually over time. Some common signs of noise-induced hearing loss include difficulty hearing conversations, especially in noisy environments, constant ringing or buzzing in the ears, and difficulty understanding speech.

If you are experiencing any changes in your hearing, come see us and check your hearing! We can diagnose any hearing loss and recommend appropriate treatment options. It's important to address hearing loss as early as possible, as it can significantly impact your quality of life. By booking a consultation with one of our Audiologists today, you can take steps to protect your hearing and prevent further hearing loss.

Written by
Reviewed by
Dr. Melissa Karp, Au.D.
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Melissa Karp is a board-certified audiologist with special expertise in tinnitus treatment, auditory processing disorder (APD) evaluation, hearing aid fitting and aural rehabilitation.