The Danger of Wearing Earbuds

Headphones are everywhere, and people use them for many reasons: listening to music, audiobooks and podcasts, answering phone calls, and stream movies. But don’t let their size fool you. In-the-canal earbuds pack a dangerous auditory punch.

The Prevalence of Earbud Use

The development of the smartphone heralded an unprecedented wave of headphone use. As smart devices grew their audio and streaming capabilities, more people turned to headphones and earbuds to listen to audio anywhere.


A Sol Republic survey revealed 53% of people 34 and younger owned at least three pairs of headphones, which were worn for a minimum of four hours a day.


According to the survey, headphone use was broken down as follows:

  • 87% for listening to music
  • 49% for listening to a TV show or movie
  • 36% to listen to radio
  • 9% for sound work or music creation


And while earbuds present a unique technological advantage, they also present an increased risk for hearing loss.

Earbuds and Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Earbuds are dangerous to your hearing health because they put the sound source closer to your inner ear. The hair-like cilia in your inner ear convert sound into electrical signals that are sent to your brain for interpretation.


Repeated exposure to noises louder than 85 decibels causes irreversible damage to those delicate structures. Once cilia die off, they cannot regenerate, resulting in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).


Earbuds are problematic for several reasons:

  • Wearing earbuds increases the volume of a sound by six to nine decibels.
  • There is no buffer between your eardrum and the earbud.
  • Earbuds don’t effectively filter background noise, which means you’ll need to increase the volume to block ambient sound.
  • Cranking up the volume on your earbuds puts you at risk for missing warning sounds such as emergency sirens, fire alarms and other alerts.
  • Earbuds collect earwax, debris, germs and moisture, which can cause an infection. Repeat ear infections result in permanent damage and hearing loss.

Earbuds Best Practices

  • Limit your daily usage. Only listen to audio through earbuds for 60 minutes at a time at 60% volume.
  • Switch between earbuds and over-ear headphones to give your ears a break. Noise-canceling headphones will eliminate background noise, so you don’t have to crank the volume.
  • Clean your earbuds regularly. Use a cotton swab or clean cloth to wipe away any debris and disinfect the surface of the device with rubbing alcohol.
  • Don’t shove your earbuds into your ear canal. If you’re struggling to keep your earbuds situated, they likely don’t suit your ear shape.
  • Give yourself listening breaks throughout the day.


Audiology & Hearing Aid Solutions offers musicians’ earplugs, custom ear inserts and hearing protection so you can listen to your audio devices safely. Call 888.473.8702 or contact us online to schedule your appointment.