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Listen Up: Earbud Safety

January 12, 2018
Hearing loss is often associated with seniors, but because of the omnipresent little white earbuds in schools, offices, busses and on children in the car or at home, it's becoming a serious issue for young people as well. "It's bad, and we aren't even going to see how bad the damage is for decades, which is part of the problem," says Brian Kaplan, MD, a GBMC Otolaryngologist. "Once you lose it, you can't get it back."

When listening through earbuds, the sound is directed straight into the ear canal, which makes the noise more damaging than with regular headphones. Using cheaply-made earbuds, like the ones that may come free with your device is especially harmful. Because of the poor earbud quality, you might find yourself cranking up the volume in order to try to block out external sounds.

So, how can you safely listen to your favorite music, podcasts and games without bothering those around you? Here are some practical tips from Dr. Kaplan, who calls hearing loss "the next public health crisis."

  • Use the 60/60 rule. Listen at no more than 60 percent of the volume capacity for no more than 60 minutes per day. This is a good, easy-to-enforce rule for kids. 
  • If the person next to you can hear your music, it is too loud and likely leading to permanent hearing loss. Turn it down. 
  • Use over-the-ear headphones, which are safer than in-ear earbuds because the sound is not funneled as directly into the ear canal. 
  • If you prefer earbuds, as many people who exercise to music do, buy better-quality earbuds that are designed to put high-fidelity sound closer to your eardrum. The sound isolation will prevent you from having to increase the volume. Higher quality earbuds will be more expensive, have rubber or foam tips and contour better to the ears. 

If you or your children are experiencing a ringing in the ears or are noticing progressive hearing loss, talk to your primary care physician about your symptoms immediately.  If necessary, he or she will refer you to a specialist. Visit for more information.
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