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  Home » Newsletter » Hearing Loss and Earphones, September 2012
 

Hearing Loss and Earphones

Nowadays, it seems wherever teenagers go their earphones aren’t too far behind. The popularity of portable music players has skyrocketed in recent years and the trend is showing no signs of slowing down. According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, hearing loss in teenagers is about 30 percent higher now than it was in the 1980s and 1990s. On average, one in five adolescents will have some form of hearing loss. The problem is believed to be due to the fact that teens today listen to music twice as long as teens of previous generations and at higher volumes. Experts agree that there is a definite correlation between prolonged earphone use and hearing loss. Many believe the use of the earphones, or earbuds while listening to high-decibel music is a possible culprit. The threat of hearing loss among young adults is a real threat, yet all the warnings seem to be falling on deaf ears.

How Does Noise Cause Hearing Loss?

The ear is made up of three parts that work together to process sounds: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Part of the inner ear called the cochlea contains microscopic hair cells. These hair cells help send sound messages to the brain. Hearing loss happens when there is enough loud noise to permanently or temporarily damage the microscopic hair cells in the inner ear. While those cells can bounce back after a loud concert, habitually exposing them to loud sounds may permanently cause them to stop working.

How Loud Is Too Loud?

Both the level of noise and the length of time you listen to the noise can put you at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Noise levels are measured in decibels, or dB for short. The higher the decibel level, the louder the noise. Loud noise above 85dB can cause permanent hearing loss. 60dB is considered normal for a conversation. Portable music players are capable of producing sound levels ranging anywhere from 60 to 120dB. With the volume approximately one-quarter of the way up, you hear about 85dB and with the volume all the way up, you could hear about 120dB (the equivalent to an airplane taking off).

Signs Of Hearing Loss

The type of hearing loss due to prolonged earphone use is typically gradual, cumulative and without obvious warning signs. A hearing test and a medical examination are the only way to truly diagnose hearing damage. If your teenager is experiencing any of the following symptoms, they should be seen by physician immediately:

  • Ringing, roaring, hissing, or buzzing in the ear
  • Difficulty understanding speech where there is background noise, such as at a party or public place
  • Muffled sounds and a feeling that the ear is plugged
  • Listening to the TV or radio at a higher volume than in the past

Treatment For Hearing Loss

Unfortunately, the type of hearing loss caused by over exposure to very loud noise is irreversible. Once the damage is done, it’s usually too late. Unlike damage to other parts of your body, inner ear damage never heals. Over time, as more and more hair cells get damaged, your hearing will get worse and worse. Hearing aids and implants can help in amplifying sounds and making it easier to hear, but they’re merely compensating for the damaged or nonworking parts of the ear.

How To Prevent Hearing Loss

Prevention is paramount when it comes to hearing loss. To help protect your ears use what audiologists call the 60 percent/60 minute rule. Try not to use these devices for more than an hour a day, and keep it under 60 percent of maximum volume. That puts you below 85 decibels, protecting you from permanent hearing damage. A trick you can use to find out if your earbuds are at a safe volume is to ask people sitting near you if they can hear your music. If they can, it's a sign that your hearing is being damaged. Turn the volume down until other people can no longer hear it. If you choose to listen to your portable device in a noisy environment, do not be tempted to turn the volume up to block out noisy surroundings. Instead, use noise-canceling headphones to block out background noise.

As is true of so many things in life, moderation is the key when it comes to earphone use. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable when it comes to portable music players. The first step is simply turning the volume down — way down — to a safe level and limiting the use of your music player to 60 minutes a day.

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