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Hearing Damage from Loud Music

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Warn Your Children About Hearing Loss from New Music Players

Many young children and teenagers got MP3 players as holiday gifts last month; doctors want to urge parents to caution their children not to play their music too loud, to avoid noise-induced hearing loss.

Loud rock music from headphones and concerts contributed to hearing loss in baby boomers, say experts; but MP3 players like the iPod could make the problem even worse for today’s youth.

MP3 players are of special concern because of two reasons:

  1. They hold thousands of songs and can play for hours before needing recharging, without the listener having to stop even to change the CD or tape
  2. Most iPod or MP3 player owners use “ear buds” to listen to their music; ear buds are light and small headphones that fit within the ear canal, placing the sound signal that much closer to the child’s inner ear

Hearing loss caused by high volume is determined by the length of the exposure. As a result, listening to an MP3 player for hours, even when the volume is not turned up all the way, can permanently damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear, which send sound impulses to the brain.

Studies have found that listening to sound at 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours tends to produce hearing loss. At that level of decibels, increasing the sound by merely 3 dB will produce the same level of damage in half the time.

For comparison, here are some examples of common sounds and their decibel levels:

  • Whisper: 30 dB
  • Normal conversation: 60 dB
  • Busy street or lawn mower: 85 dB
  • Can cause permanent hearing loss: above 85 dB

Hearing Loss Among Youths Is a Growing Problem

Hearing loss becomes increasingly common as we get older; but doctors are finding that the age at which people are suffering permanent hearing damage is getting younger.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 12.5 percent of youths 6 to 19 (about 5.2 million) have hearing loss caused by noise.

The Oregon Health and Science University Tinnitus Clinic found that 16 percent of 6- to 19-year-olds have early signs of hearing damage at the range most commonly affected by loud sounds.

Research from the Netherlands found that among adolescents who used MP3 players with headphones, almost half listened to music at higher settings.

Overexposure to noise can produce temporary or permanent hearing damage. Being exposed to loud noise over a short time may lead to temporary hearing loss that may include tinnitus, ringing in the ears. The person may recover from it. But if overexposure to sound continues over time, they may suffer permanent hearing loss.

Damage from long-term overexposure to noise will be gradual, making it harder for the person to realize that their hearing is getting worse. Though a routine hearing test administered by a doctor can reveal hearing loss, the damage may become substantial before the person realizes that they have a problem.

Voices may start to sound muffled, or the person may have difficulty following a conversation in a place with background noise, such as a restaurant. Tinnitus may eventually become so loud that the sufferer has trouble sleeping.

What Parents Can Do

One of the tricky things for parents is to get children to understand that hearing damage may be permanent. Because it can be hard to get teenagers to heed the message, experts are advising parents to start talking to their kids about noise and hearing loss when the children are younger.

In addition, some kids think that they can get their ears accustomed to loud sound, so that the loudness won’t harm their hearing; however, that’s not possible. The stronger the sound impulses going into the inner ear, the more the hair cells in the cochlea will bend; if they bend hard and long enough, they will not resume their normal erect positions and will not receive and transmit signals as effectively (or at all).

Parents must therefore underline the importance of children not playing their devices at the loudest volumes. Look up a diagram of the ear’s inner structures online and show your child all the delicate, small parts that make up the middle and inner ears.

Direct your kids to follow the “60/60” rule: listen to devices at no more than 60 percent of the volume they allow and for no longer than an hour; but music can be heard longer than that if the volume is turned down more.

Alternatively, many current MP3 players have adjustable maximum volume limits; you and your child can agree on the limit that you will set on the device.

By LIsa Pecos

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