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Can Earbuds Really Hurt Your Hearing?

Published: May 31, 2016
Dear TeenHealthFX,
Can using earbuds really hurt your hearing?
Signed: Can Earbuds Really Hurt Your Hearing?

Dear Can Earbuds Really Hurt Your Hearing?,

According to TeensHealth, earbuds can damage your hearing in the same way that things like chainsaws and motorcycles can. The damage is all in the volume. When it does occur it is an example of a condition known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

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.

The audiologist can also answer any questions you might have about using earbuds and about protecting your hearing.

Using Earbuds the Right Way

Noise-induced hearing loss due to earbuds is 100% preventable if you use them in moderation.

You've probably heard the saying, "All things in moderation." Not overdoing things is true whether you're eating chocolate cake or using earbuds. The more cake you eat, the faster you'll gain weight. The louder the volume, the faster hearing loss can happen.

So what does moderation mean when it comes to using earbuds? Doctors recommend the 60%/60-minute rule:

  • Listen to music or play a movie or video game at no more than 60% of the maximum volume.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend with earbuds in your ears to 60 minutes.

Here's another trick you can use to find out if your earbuds are at a safe volume: Ask people sitting near you if they can hear your music. If they can, it's a sign that your hearing is being damaged. Turn the volume down until other people can no longer hear it.

Hearing loss isn't the only problem that earbuds can cause. Listening to music at a loud volume can make you unaware of what's going on around you. That increases your chances of an accident. If you're running on a bike path, for example, it's hard to hear a cyclist shout, "Heads up!" when your music drowns out all other sounds.

Are There Other Options?

It might feel like every phone or music player comes packaged with a tiny pair of earbuds. After all, they're cheap to manufacture and easy to use.

So what can you do? Go retro with headphones. There's a reason they're making a comeback. Sometimes old-school is better.

Most electronics stores have entire sections devoted to headphones. The best headphones, noise-canceling headphones, help block out other noises. That way, you don't have to turn up the volume on your music as loud to hear it well. Noise-canceling headphones may be good for staying focused on studying or homework, but they're not great choices if you need to hear the world around you.

Headphones that go over your ears can also damage your hearing if you use them too long or play music too loudly. They're just not as much of a risk as earbuds are: Having the source of the sound in your ear canal can increase a sound's volume by 6 to 9 decibels — enough to cause some serious problems.

Earbuds exist because so many of us love music. So you probably want to protect your hearing so you can continue to appreciate music. That's why it helps to know about the risks of earbuds (and other noise hazards) so you can take steps to be safe.

Signed: TeenHealthFX