Ear Buds vs Ear Phones

When deciding between using headphones vs ear buds for listening, we are usually focused on things like sound quality, portability and preference.  But it’s super important to also factor in the safety of using earbuds vs earphones to protect your hearing.

Is this a problem?

Yes. According to recent studies, 16 percent of teens and 15 percent of adults have experienced hearing loss due to noise.  And the rates of nose induced hearing loss in the past 10 years have risen at alarming rates compared to earlier decades.  A big culprit that the medical community is warning us about are earphone and even more so with earbuds.  In addition to hearing loss, users can experience tinnitis (ear ringing) ear pain and headaches.

What’s the difference between earbuds and earphones?

Simply put, earbuds are designed to be inserted into the ear and ear canal.  While they are light and portable and work really well for activities such as exercise, commuting and phone calls, they can be outright harmful to our ears.  Since standard ear buds that come with our smart devices don’t typically have the ability to filter out ambient noise, we tend to crank the volume up so we can hear our music, podcast or whatever we are listening to.  (Think subway riders – to drown out the background noise, music is often turned up to maximum volume which is known to be harmful to our hearing.)

Headphones are designed to worn over our ears.  There are two types:

  • SupraAural headphones which cover the entire ear surface but do not seal the ear.  (Hello background noise.)  They also tend to be light and affordable, but can be prone to listening at higher than recommended volume.
  • Circumaural headphones which cover the ears and provide a seal to shut out background noise.  (Think airport workers, drummers and construction crews.)  While these are generally more expensive and less portable, they can be less damaging to the ears mostly due to better acoustic design, more sophisticated speakers and noise canceling features.

How loud is too loud?

In general, sounds greater than than 85 decibels are considered dangerous to your hearing.  Sounds greater than 120 decibels can cause outright pain to the ear. Repeated exposure to sounds greater than 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss. This is a big deal since hearing loss is not reversible.

To give some perspective, soft whispers measure at 30 decibels, traffic noise, at 75 decibels, an explosion at 100 decibels, a jet plan at 140 decibels and a rocket launching pad at 180 decibels.   Most smart devices can crank up to 120 decibels.

What can I do?

There are three main things to be aware of, volume, frequency and duration.  How loud is your volume set, how often do you listen to things at a high volume and for how long?

If you do use earbuds, you may want to consider using them for brief phone calls, intermittent listening and never exceeding 60% volume.  If you are a frequent listener, than it is worth investing in a pair of good earphones.  If you do not want to switch to earphones, then it is worth investing into noise canceling earbuds and limiting your use.

In fact, a great strategy to adopt in the 60/60 strategy.

  • 60 minutes a day
  • No greater than 60% volume

Until the next time!


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