How Earbuds Affect Your Hearing

Hearing loss from earbuds is an example of a condition called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This kind of hearing loss is becoming more of a problem among kids and teens.

Chances are that all you know about earbuds is that they’re easy to carry around and they sound good. Earbuds are useful little devices as long as they’re used at low volumes. But they’re basically a pair of tiny speakers that you wear inside your ears. And loud music playing that close to your eardrum can cause permanent hearing loss.

How Earbuds Damage the Ears

Believe it or not, earbuds can damage your hearing in the same way that things like chainsaws and motorcycles can. That may seem weird because earbuds are so small.
But the damage is all in the volume.

Chainsaws and motorcycle engines create about 100 decibels of sound. That much sound can start to damage a person’s ears after less than half an hour. An MP3 player at 70% of its top volume is about 85 decibels. Turning the volume up and listening for long periods of time can put you in real danger of permanent hearing loss.

How Does Noise Cause Hearing Loss?

The ear is made up of three parts that work together to process sounds: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Part of the inner ear called the cochlea contains tiny hair cells. These hair cells help send sound messages to the brain. But loud noise can damage the hair cells. When this happens, the cochlea can’t relay sound messages to the brain as well.

Unlike damage to other parts of your body, inner ear damage never heals. Over time, as more and more hair cells get damaged, your hearing will get worse and worse.

What to Do

Noise-induced hearing loss from using earbuds usually takes a while. Because it happens gradually, a lot of people don’t know they have a problem until it’s too late.
Signs you may have hearing loss are:

  • Ringing, buzzing, or roaring in your ears after hearing a loud noise
  • Muffling or distortion of sounds

What should you do if you think you have signs of hearing loss? Call your doctor. The doctor may examine you and send you to see an audiologist. The audiologist will most likely give you a series of tests to determine how much your hearing has been affected.


Top Things to Know About Earbuds
  1. You’re more at risk of hearing loss if you use earbuds than if you use over-the-ear headphones.
  2. Because earbuds play in your ear canal then can increase a sound’s volume by several decibels.
  3. To stay safe, follow the 60/60 rule: No more than 60% of maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes.
  4. If you’re using earbuds and people around you can hear your music, it’s loud enough to be causing permanent hearing loss.
An audiologist can answer any questions you might have about using earbuds and about protecting your hearing. Contact us today for more information.

*This information was provided by KidsHealth, one of the largest resources online for medically reviewed health information written for parents, kids, and teens. For more articles like this, visit KidsHealth.org or TeenHealth.org.