Earbuds and Hearing Loss: What's the Connection?

It's a common misconception that listening to music through earbuds is harmless. In reality, the volume of sounds from your earbuds can be damaging to your hearing and may cause long-term damage. Recent research has proven that even when you're not using them for audio, but instead as a hands-free device to talk on the phone, wearing earbuds causes hearing loss. Some people don't realize this and continue to use them in this way without any effects on their sound quality or listening experience, but they are still doing irreparable harm to their ears by exposing themselves daily to dangerously loud noise levels. We will explore how you can protect yourself against possible hearing loss by not using headphones at all (or reducing the volume if you do), as well as what you can do to protect your ear health.

Earbuds and Hearing Loss

As the world becomes more technologically advanced, people are spending more time using their media devices. It is common for individuals to watch television or movies on laptops or tablets while simultaneously checking emails and text messages. With all of this technology, it is not surprising that more people are experiencing hearing loss.

What are the Dangers of Earbuds?

The dangers of earbuds can vary depending on how they are used. For example, listening to music on an iPod for one hour at 60 percent volume will be different from listening to music at 70 percent volume for half an hour or 40 percent volume for two hours. The longer the duration and the higher the volume, the greater chance of ear damage.

A common problem related to earbuds is listening to music at high volume with headphones. Headphones are known to be safer than earbuds because they do not come into direct contact with your eardrum. However, it is possible for hearing damage to occur with headphones if the volume is too high.

Another potential problem with earbuds and other listening devices is the sharing factor. It is safer to listen at a low volume when using earbuds, but this may not be possible if you share your device with others — such as friends taking turns on your iPod or students borrowing school-issued iPads or laptops. Not only does this practice create more chances for hearing damage, but it also increases the risk of spreading illness through the spread of germs.

If you want to listen to music with earbuds but are concerned about possible health risks, there are a few precautions you can take:

  • Use earphones that limit maximum volume.
  • Use earphones to listen for no more than an hour a day. This includes time spent listening through the speakers of your device as well as via earbuds or headphones.
  • Limit use by children, and don't allow children under age 12 to use earphones at all. To be safe, set a volume limit on children's devices and closely monitor how often they use them.
  • If you experience ringing in your ears, dizziness, nausea, or discomfort when using earphones, stop using them at once and see a doctor. These could be signs of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
  • Don't share earphones with others or turn up the volume to drown out noisy surroundings. Not only is this practice unsafe, but you could suffer NIHL if someone else uses them in a high-volume setting.
  • Avoid drowning out noise with earphones by playing music at low volumes. It's OK to listen to sounds you enjoy, just be sure the volume isn't too loud.
  • If it hurts your ears, turn down the volume or stop listening for a while. Earbuds are everywhere these days—at home, school, or work, on the bus or subway. If you're among those who rely on earphones to get through a day of noises—the chatter of fellow commuters, the hum of an air conditioner—then it's time for a hearing check-up. You should schedule one if you experience any of the following:
  • You have had to raise your voice to be heard by others.
  • You have had to ask people to repeat themselves, despite seeming fully awake and attentive.
  • Others complain that your TV or music is too loud. They may even bang on the wall for you to turn it down.
  • Movies or video games seem muted or low-volume.

These are all classic signs of hearing loss, says audiologist Dawn Pettengill. She's the director of quality management for Siemens Hearing Instruments in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., which makes its line of earphones. Even if you have only some of these symptoms, it's time for a check-up, she says. Early detection can be the key to maintaining your quality of life for many years.

The World Health Organization predicts that 1.1 billion young people around the world are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to unsafe levels of noise from personal audio devices, including smartphones, MP3 players, and tablets. These devices have become a constant companion in much of the world, and their earbuds deliver high-quality audio into our ears — often at unsafe listening levels.

The good news is that we can do a lot to protect ourselves from hearing loss and ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Hearing damage may be done before you pick up your first pair of earbuds. According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, more than one in five teenagers has experienced some degree of noise-induced hearing loss.

Hearing damage may be limited if you take precautions before picking up your first pair of earbuds. Once that damage is done, it's permanent. But if you're past that age, or just starting to hear ringing in your ears, there are steps you can take to stop it before it becomes permanent.


The connection between earbuds and hearing loss has been established; now it's time for us to talk about how we can make sure your ears stay as healthy as possible, even with all those hours spent listening on your commute every day. Whether you're looking for a regular exam, custom-fitted plugs (which may include noise-canceling), or just some information about what could be going wrong in your life because you're not able to hear things anymore, our team at Ear Care Centers have got you covered!