You’ve probably heard it a million times — “earbuds are bad for your hearing.” But is that really true? It’s no secret that listening to anything at high volume can cause some serious hearing loss, but to what extent?

Earbuds were developed in the 80s, but it wasn’t until Steve Jobs and Apple changed the music consumption game with early versions of the iPod that earbuds started becoming popular. We took a look at the rumors about headphones and hearing damage, and did the research on what the truth is so you don’t have to.

How do we get hearing loss?

The ears are pretty delicate organs. When sound first enters our ears, it makes its way down into the ear canal, where it vibrates the ear drum. Those vibrations then travel up to the cochlea, after which fluid carries the vibrations to tiny hairs that stimulate the auditory nerves that connect to the brain, which interprets the vibrations as sound.

When there’s damage to the tiny hairs in our ear, that’s when hearing loss occurs. How does that damage happen? Turns out, it’s when we listen to high volumes of audio for long periods of time. Damage occurs at around 85dB, which is a little louder than the average garbage disposal. According to some studies, the average person listens to music on their earbuds at around 110-120dB.

What’s even worse is the fact that once you have hearing loss, you’ll have it forever — you can’t reverse hearing loss.

What role do earbuds play in this?

The closer a sound is to your eardrum, the louder it is to our ears. In fact, putting earbuds into our ears can boost the volume level by as much as 9dB, which is no small amount.

The inherent design of earbuds also plays a role. While over-ear headphones can create a seal around your ear and keep out unwanted noise, generally earbuds are riddled with ways for outside noise to get in. The result of this? People turn their music up even louder so that they can hear it over the noise of the subway, or the street noise, or the plane.

For that reason, wearing more professionally styled in-ear headphones can actually be safer for your ears — they cause a seal in your ear canal that prevents outside noise from getting in, meaning you can keep listening to music without having to turn the volumes up too high for your ears to handle.

What can I do to save my hearing?

Besides simply turning the volume down, there are a number of things that you can do to keep your hearing working for as long as possible. Here are a few of those things:

  • Wear over-ear headphones
  • Limit the amount of time your listen to music with earbuds
  • Buy in-ears or earbuds that offer a tight seal


Earbuds certainly have a place — their convenience is unparalleled. Just make sure not to put that convenience above your health!