Do Earbuds Damage Your Hearing More Than Headphones?

Do Earbuds Damage Your Hearing More Than Headphones


Here' s the big question, "Do earbuds damage your hearing more than headphones?" There are many people listening to music at a loud noise day in, day out through earbuds to cancel out external sounds. Earbuds are compact and offer more mobility. Therefore, they are widely more often used, than headphones.

It' s time to address the elephant in the room and look at the ways through which we can prevent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and protect ourselves and our younger ones from permanent hearing loss.

Status of hearing loss caused by headphones or earbuds

Only a couple of decades ago, both young and older people alike, could listen to the serene rustle of the leaves, the timid drips of raindrops into the puddles and the calming sound of winds. That' s not the case anymore.

It is suggested by the WHO statistics that "1.1 billion young people aged between 12–35 years are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to noise in recreational settings." Furthermore, it is estimated that "by 2050 over 900 million people will have a disabling hearing loss.”

For all these people, those beautiful nature sounds mentioned above will be completely gone. And the worst part is that there' s no "cure" to bring back the hearing. There' s only prevention and this is basically why you' re reading this article. To know about why hearing loss occurs, if earbuds are worse than headphones when it comes to hearing damage and what are the measures which can minimize the damage.

Noise-induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss

Hearing threshold and the level of comfort differ from individual to individual; however, there are two basic rules that apply to everybody. The first one is that the higher the sound levels, the more damage your ears go through.

However, there' s a certain threshold below which the damage is not adequate enough to leave any long-term impact. Now the first rule goes hand in hand with the second one, which states that the longer you are exposed to the noise, the more damage your ears gather.

Let' s sum these two up into one compact statement. The louder the sound the shorter the amount of time it takes for hearing to degrade completely. This means that you can listen to music for extended periods of time on lower sound levels.

This allows avid music listeners and music lovers an occasional possibility to hear music on high sound levels for a brief period of time, to satisfy themselves.  Generally speaking, sounds which are louder than 85 decibels are considered bad for your hearing.

Generally, Audiology doctors recommend minimizing the damage through the 60/60 rule. You have to keep the volume at less than or equal to 60% of the maximum range and listen for 60 minutes with short breaks in between each session to rest your ears.

Earbuds vs. Headphones: Which leads to the most hearing damage?

Earbuds vs. Headphones Which leads to the most hearing damage

The question is which one leads to more hearing damage? Can headphones damage your hearing? Can earphones damage your hearing? To answer these questions, when it comes to headphones and earbuds, it' s important to know that both have the same amount of capacity to damage your ears in their own ways.

Headphones have over the ear design and therefore sit over your ears with a headband. Sound waves travel from outside the ears to the inside in headphones and hearing production isn' t, therefore, affected as much. On the other hand, earphones' speakers sit quite inside the ear canal. For one thing, headphones create less of a direct impact on the eardrum than the earbuds.

Now when you plug in your earbuds, the ear canal is sealed. Therefore, the sound levels are exceptionally boosted due to the oscillation of sound waves, creating a pressure chamber. Equivalent volumes will sound much higher through the earbuds as the audio is directly transmitted to the eardrums up close without letting any sound escape.

The membrane inside the ears has small hair that moves with the motion of the wave. Due to persistent agitation, these hairs slowly start to degrade. This cause you to start missing out on sound on lower frequencies. At this point, many people make the mistake of increasing the volume to be able to hear properly and block external-noise resulting in a vicious cycle towards hearing loss.

Therefore, after a set amount of time, the destruction is so great that the damage becomes completely irreversible and therefore part of your hearing is lost, and eventually, the entire hearing can be lost! Earbuds, especially with the raised volume, provides much louder sound levels than headphones, and therefore lead to more hearing damage.

Related reading: What Lead to Hearing Damage While Wearing Headphones?

Which headphones are best for your hearing?

The whole process greatly exaggerates the physical strain that your eardrums go through and fatigue the tiny muscles due to repeated oscillations, causing "listener fatigue”. Now after hearing to all this, you just want to know the solution. One of the solutions I' ll propose will be customized headphones to enhance your hearing experience without compromising your hearing level.

Noise-canceling headphonesnoise cancelling headphones

Noise Cancelling Headphones basically cancel out the background noise through either active noise-cancellation or passive noise-cancellation mechanism.

Active noise cancellation incorporates a tiny mic in the earpiece to record the ambient sound and noises. Then the electronics in the earpiece basically emits a wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with the original ambient noise, thus, it cancels out the ambient noise before it reaches your ear.

Passive noise cancellation is possible due to the material used and design. It mainly focuses on isolating the waves produced inside from the waves outside, by sealing the ear canal properly.

Through both the ways, you' re only left with the sound produced from your device. Because of this, you can listen to music on lower sound levels and for extended periods of time.

Bone conduction headphonesBone conduction headphones

Contrary to the popular belief, this technology is quite old. Beethoven invented it back in the 18th Century. Beethoven couldn' t hear many sounds and was almost deaf. Due to his impairment, he found another way to hear the music. He did that by biting the rod which produces music in the piano. He could hear the music through his jawbone. Fascinating! Am I right?

You can use these hearing protection headphones with some specific hearing losses, like a unilateral hearing loss, or conductive hearing loss. As long as you have a good cochlea, you' re fine! However, you must note that these headphones are also capable of impairing your hearing when used on high sound levels, therefore, keeps it low.

How does it work? In summary, it bypasses your ear canal entirely, by decoding and converting the sound waves into vibrations. From there on, the Cochlea is responsible for the reception of sound vibrations.

Customized headphonesCustomized headphones

Custom noise suppression earplugs are available to combat hearing loss. The manufacturers make these custom earbuds by taking the "impression" of your ear canal and outer ear' s shape. This it mimics the buds to shape that way, fusing the passive noise cancellation into them. Therefore, you can hear the music at lower levels with uninterrupted sound quality.


I would like to reiterate that both headphones can be responsible for hearing impairment. Not only that, in fact, even other headphones like bone-conduction or ones with noise-cancellation can be responsible too. To answer the imminent question of this article, the hearing damage from earbuds and headphones is not equal and in fact, earbuds are capable of causing more hearing damage due to their design and use.

It' s important to follow the 60/60 rule to overall protect your hearing. Furthermore, we should educate the young generation about this phenomenon before hearing loss reaches the alarming levels mentioned by the WHO! Let' s protect our hearing, let' s listen and promote communication.


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