Earbud Use Could Harm Your Hearing

Earbud Use Could Harm Your Hearing
Cyndi Connolly

No matter where you go, you see people with earbuds in place as they stream content. We’re a ‘plugged in’ modern society, but now it appears that this use of earbuds could spell danger for our ears. 

Earbuds And Noise

A study by the World Health Organization in 2015 found that the use of earbuds had increased by 75% between 1994 and 2005. That study also found that individuals from middle and high-income countries between the ages of 12 and 35 subjected themselves to unsafe sound levels with their portable music devices.

It’s tempting to pop in the earbuds and crank up the music or podcasts to give yourself a little boost when you are working out. Or, it’s easier to tune out what’s going on around you with the earbuds in and the music up – but you might want to reconsider listening to music at a high volume for an extended period.

How Loud Is Too Loud?

“It’s harmful because once you get above 85 decibels, which is a measurement of volume… you start doing damage to the hair cells in the ear,” says Charles Pudrith, an audiology professor at Northern Illinois University. Microscopic hair cells in the ear called stereocilia convert sound vibrations to electrical signals that the brain’s auditory nerve then processes into a sound that you can understand. 

Once the hairs are damaged, they don’t regenerate. There are enough hairs to compensate for some damage, but if the damage continues, there is hearing loss. 

Pudrith, who plays drums in a rock band, said music is meant to be enjoyed, but when the volume is deafening, high-pitch treble and low-frequency sounds that add to the experience are lost. 

Some experience a temporary threshold shift, a short-time reduction in hearing when exposed to a high volume of sound. Pudrith noted that those who attend concerts might experience this in the form of muffled hearing when they step outside the venue.

Some Loss Could Be Permanent

According to doctors, once there is a temporary shift, hearing will never ultimately return to its original state. There has been damage to the hair cells in the ear. Constant exposure over time will lead to permanent hearing loss, says Pudrith.

Research has shown that listening to music at 90 decibels for 40 hours a week will lead to hearing loss. Most individuals don’t listen to music that loud for 40 hours a week, noted Pudrith, and portable music devices don’t typically exceed 85 decibels. Still, individual susceptibility plays a massive role in hearing loss.

 “The fact is once you crank the music so loud that you have to shout over it, that’s when you start rolling the dice,” he said. A general rule of thumb is if you are at a concert or other establishment where there is much noise, if you can’t have a conversation at arm’s length without shouting – it’s too loud.

Be Extra Careful If You Are A Musician

Many musicians wore earplugs during performances because they have become aware that repeatedly exposing themselves to high decibel levels will result in ear damage, including tinnitus or a permanent ringing in the ears. Custom earmolds are available if that is an issue for you, and we can help you find what you need to protect your ears. If you attend many concerts, it would be a good idea for you to wear disposable earplugs. You will still hear the concert, but the sound will be reduced to a safe level. 

Audiology experts suggest investing in noise-canceling headphones for those who crank up the music on their portable devices while they are walking around to cancel out the chatter around them. 

Preventing Hearing Loss

If you work in an environment where noise is an issue, or you think you may have inadvertently damaged your ears with loud music, the best thing to do is get a hearing evaluation with us. An evaluation will set a base level, and we can help you watch out for your hearing with custom hearing protection options! Contact us today.