How much does using earbuds impact your hearing health? The need to turn up the volume does indeed cause problems with your ears, but it extends beyond just the use of earbuds or headphones. It can happen in clubs, on the job or during a night at the symphony.
All of these scenarios lead to what medical professionals call noise induced hearing loss. The World Health Organization warns that one billion teens and young adults are at risk of losing their hearing due to loud music, but it is a problem that affects you regardless of your age. To understand why loud music damages your ears, you have to know a little about how they work.
How Sound Works
The mechanisms in your ear are able to translate sound waves into electrical impulses that the brain can interpret. It takes very delicate elements to make that work correctly and that is where loud music causes the most damage.
Sound is measured in decibels – the lower the decibels, the weaker the wave entering your ear and the softer the sound. A humming refrigerator, for example, produces about 45 decibels of sound, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders. You are hearing around 60 decibels when you talk to someone and a firecracker produces around 150 decibels.
As sound enters the ear, it causes the eardrum to vibrate. That vibration travels further inward to produce movement in the tiny bones of the middle ear. The bones transfer the vibration from the sound wave to fluid in the cochlea to create a ripple effect, which in turn triggers hair cells to move up and down. This cascading process creates an electrical signal that the brain converts into what you hear.
The problem with loud noises is the force they create entering the ear. That force causes damage to the fragile hair cells of the inner ear that allow electrical impulses to reach the brain. Without those hair cells, the brain has nothing to translate into sound.
The Long Term Effects of Loud Music
Noise-induced hearing loss is a gradual process. Most people will experience some hearing loss after exposure to loud music. When leaving a loud concert or club, your ears hum and you have trouble hearing what other people are saying for awhile. This initial hearing loss is temporary, but repeated exposure causes permanent damage. Once that happens, you may need a hearing aid to amplify sounds, so you can understand them.
Loud sounds are not limited to music. If you are exposed each day to sounds above 85 decibels, it is important to protect your ears with plugs or sound dampening headphones. When you do listen to music, avoid using earbuds if possible. If you need to isolate the sound, keep the volume down. If you hear ringing in your ears after removing them, the music was too loud.
Some hearing loss is normal as you age, so have your hearing tested if you are worried about your ears and avoid loud music whenever possible.