Earbuds vs. Headphones For Hearing Damage – What’s Better For Your Ears?

by Alex.   Last Updated On August 10th, 2022.
SoundGearLab is supported by our readers. We may earn a commission for purchases made after clicking on links on this page. Read our affiliate disclosure for more information.

Avoiding noise induced trauma can be the best way to reduce the chances of developing hearing loss in the future. While most of us know that super-loud sounds like jet engines and loud construction equipment can be harmful to our ears, we aren’t aware of a common culprit that something most of us do daily can also do massive damage to our ears, and that is by playing music using earbuds and headphones.

Whether exercising or commuting, most of us plug in our headphones and play music to make the day enjoyable. And while listening to music has a considerably lower maximum sound level than cars blaring, they are placed nearer to our ear canal, which could still cause hearing loss.

If listening to music through a speaker is not possible, headphones are a far better choice if you want to maintain proper hearing health. Since you don’t have to push headphones into your ear canal, they are less likely to cause hearing loss. In addition to this, since earbuds are nearer to your eardrums, they amplify the sound produced by at least 9 decibels, which can eventually cause permanent hearing damage.

This article will tackle which is better for your ears, earbuds or headphones, how loud noises can damage your hearing, how to use headphones to limit damage to keep your ears safe, and many more.

Let’s get right into it.

Table of Contents

How loud noises from headphones hurt your ears?

Loud music played through your headphones and earbuds can cause noise induced hearing loss if you love playing sounds at their max volume. Fewer people are unaware that our ears are complicated, just like any body part.

Our ears have been developed over time through survival as our ancestors needed to hear subtle and gentle sounds to hunt food and keep away from predators. Quite simply, our ears are not designed to deal with a loud noise.

Loud music strengthens the vibrations within the hair cells inside our ears, and when these vibrations get too intense, the hair cells are unable to cope with the vibration load, which leads to them being unable to function correctly.

If you listen to music for a prolonged period, but at a safe volume, the worst that could happen is you could damage your hair cells’ sensitivity and cause you trouble hearing in loud places. But the good thing is that this can be reversed.

However, if you have long exposure to deafening music daily, then you could cause the hair cells inside your ears to completely lose their ability to vibrate with sound; this is what’s called noise induced hearing loss, wherein the damage within your hair cells is beyond repair, and are non-reversible.

Woman portrait listening to music with headphones

Hearing loss is already a problem.

More than a third of children under 70 have permanent hearing impairment due to loud noises. It has been called a noise-inducing loss of aural hearing that is easily prevented. The CDC said about 50% of people over 25 suffer ear damage from loud noise.

Earbuds vs. headphones hearing damage

If you avoid hearing loss while preserving a great listening experience, you should opt for headphones.

Headphones are placed outside the human ear, meaning the volume of music they are playing is less damaging than earbuds. In addition, since earbuds are placed closer and funnel sound directly to your inner ear, they amplify the volume by about 9 decibels.

To make things worse, according to the World Health Organization, earbuds can also cause ear damage and ear infections. Pushing your earbuds into your ears encourages the build-up of ear wax and fluid in your middle ear by causing blockages, which can be extremely painful.

Since headphones don’t block out the air from entering the ears, they are less likely to promote the development of bacteria and viruses inside your ears.

Another reason to avoid earbuds is that they can be uncomfortable to wear for a long time (but this can be avoided if you know how to wear earbuds correctly). Since earbuds are made with a one-size-fits-all approach, earbuds won’t always be a perfect fit for your ears, which can contribute to ear damage.

How can I use my headphones without damaging my eardrums?

Although headphones are far better than earbuds, they can still cause hearing loss if not done correctly. Here are some ways to avoid a greater risk of permanent hearing loss when using your headphones.

Volume limits help, but kids often know workarounds.

To ensure that you don’t play explosive noise every time you listen to music, set your volume low, at approximately 85 decibels, or 60% or less of your device’s maximum volume level.

Thankfully, most apps like google play music send alerts that your current volume level is too loud and can cause hearing loss. If you listen to music at 80 decibels, then you can stream music for up to 25 hours safely.

If uncontrolled, some devices can even go up to 160 decibels, twice than that of recommended by experts.

Purchase noise cancelling headphones

Choosing the right headphones is also a crucial factor to consider. If you live in a noisy environment, investing in noise-cancelling headphones is necessary. Deafening noises from your environment can still cause damage to your ears, and this is why noise canceling headphones are a great way to listen to music safely.

Besides this, since the noise canceling functionality from noise canceling headphones removes ambient noise from your surroundings, you are less likely to turn up the volume when listening to music.

Limit your exposure to loud noise

Another way to minimize the risk of noise-induced hearing loss is to limit your listening time. A general rule most people follow is listening to music at 85 decibels for up to 8 hours a day. If you play music at a higher volume level, you should reduce your exposure to them.

Use over ear headphones.

Over ear headphones are indeed the safest among the different headphone types. Since over-ear headphones are placed in your outer ear, they don’t deliver sound directly to your eardrums as earbuds do, so they are far safer and provide a smoother distribution of music to your ears.

Follow the 60-60 rule.

The 60-60 rule dictates that you should listen to at 60% of your music player’s maximum volume for just 60 minutes per day. This straightforward step hits two birds with one stone by minimizing your volume level and limiting your exposure.

Never share headphones

Sharing headphones can be a sure-fire way to encourage the spreading of bacteria and viruses, which can also cause hearing loss. Contaminated earwax can stick to your headphones, and when this earwax travels from one person to another, it can go directly inside your ear canal, which can cause permanent hearing loss.

What can parents do?

Perhaps the best way to lower the risk of developing hearing loss in young adults is by telling them to stop listening to music and encourage normal conversation to entertain themselves. Not only will this avoid cognitive decline, but it also strengthens bonds with your family members.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are headphones or earbuds worse for hearing?

Earbuds are indeed worse for hearing. They play far louder music closer to your inner ear and cause blockages and encourage the build-up of fluid and earwax in your ear.

Do earbuds damage your hearing?

The earbuds themselves don’t cause any harm to our hearing; it’s how we use earbuds that allow us to have a greater risk of developing noise induced trauma, which directly results in hearing loss.

Are headphones healthier than earbuds?

Yes, young adults should opt for headphones to reduce the risk of developing permanent hearing loss from listening to music.

How can I treat hearing loss from excessively loud music?

Perhaps the best treatment for hearing loss is prevention, as most hearing losses are irreversible. However, you might be able to hear again with hearing aids. Simply visit your local hospital to receive a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.


Listening to music is a fantastic way to make the most boring activities somewhat enjoyable. However, you must also remember that while these seemingly harmless habits can be innocent looking, they can be detrimental to your hearing health.

We hope this informative article has helped you become more knowledgeable about choosing the better option between earbuds and headphones that are more beneficial for your hearing.