Earbuds have a long and rich history and many origins, one of the earliest being that of Thomas Edison.  Since then, there has been a stream of innovations and new designs, especially in the 1980’s with the creation of the Sony Walkman and, in 2001, the Apple’s MP3 player.  Since then, there have been hundreds of new models, most loosely based off the design of Johnathan Ive (an industrial designer for Apple), and have become an everyday item.

But are they safe?

Countless people, myself included, enjoy listening to their music via headphones or earbuds on a daily basis.  They are a good way to block out the outside world and listen to music without disturbing those close by.  Now, I am sure everyone that uses earbuds has been told by someone not to listen to their music to loudly or they’ll go deaf, but many dismiss this as an old wives’ tale.  However, as it turns out, it is anything but.

Earbuds, unlike headphones that keep the majority of the sound ‘trapped’ in the ear, sends all of the music straight through the ear canal and to the eardrum.  To paint a picture of what this difference in sound distribution, imagine a watering a plant with a water hose, complete with nozzle.  Most people use the shower head as it disperses the water evenly across the soil and simulates rain fall.  However, the jet function forces the same amount of water through a single opening to a single point with enough force to create a hole. 

This stream of sound can, and has, led to reports of high-frequency hearing loss (HFHL) in adolescents and adults all over.  In fact, over one billion 12 to 35-year olds across the world experience HFHL due to over exposure, making the use of earbuds risky, but what can be done?  Buy headphones?  A good pair of headphones can cost up to $300, not to mention they do not have the same portability as earbuds.  So, what can be done to mitigate the damage earbuds can cause?  Well, researchers developed a rule that does just that.

The 60/60 rule states that the volume of music should be kept under 60% at all times in order to limit the damage done to the eardrum and hair cells.  While it is not a perfect solution, it is a step in the right direction.  Researchers also state that noise-cancelling earbuds are probably the best to use as their ability to block out outside noise limits the reason for someone to listen to their music at a damaging volume. 

Earbuds are not inherently good or bad.  As with most things, too much of something can prove to be harmful, as we have seen time and time again.  You don’t have to get rid of your earbuds or your music just because you are afraid of losing your hearing.  Just remember, earbuds were made to help you listen to your music, not to deafen you.  Make sure the volume of your music stays at a reasonable level.