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Martin Smith

16th June 2016

Hearing Loss in Teens & Young Adults Increasing


Epidemic of hearing loss in teens?

Trying to get the attention of your teenage children can be most frustrating while our blood pressure rises because we think they are ignoring us, most often the problem is they are wearing earbuds or earphones and listening to music on their phone. There is a growing health issue here, and not just of the chances of your head exploding!

Hearing loss among teens

It appears that hearing loss is increasing among teens at alarming rates across the world. Last year, the World Health Organization estimated that 1.1 billion young people were at risk of hearing loss because of the use of excessive volume through their earphones when listening to music.

Music at the high volume is as dangerous as noise

The problem isn't confined to earphones, listening through either headphones or earphones at high volumes and for extended periods of time can result in a permanent hearing loss. The risks are the same as working in a very noisy environment. 

One of the things that many people don't realise is that sound can do damage whether it is music or plain industrial noise. Once it is over a certain volume level , continued exposure to it will cause damage to the delicate structures in the inner ear (the cochlea).

Today, 1 in 5 teenagers have some form of hearing loss, this is an astonishing 30 percent higher rate than statistics in the 1980s and 1990s . Many experts, including the WHO, believe that the increased use of earphones and headphones in this demographic has played a part.

How does noise damage your hearing?

Every day, we are exposed to sound, the usual cacophony of life, cars trucks, the TV, the general hubbub of living. These sounds are normally presented to you at safe levels, levels which cause no damage. However, when sounds are too loud and you are exposed to them for too long the sensitive hair cells in your inner ear can be damaged, leading to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

The cochlea (inner ear) contains thousands of tiny hair cells which help your brain to perceive sound by turning mechanical forces into nerve impulses that the brain understands. We have known for many years that loud noise can damage them. This type of damage was typical in service men and women and workers in heavy industry. 

Permanent Damage

When this happens, there is a break in your chain of hearing and the sound signals sent to the brain are either degraded or not sent at all. Unfortunately, once the damage is done, it is done, this is one part of our body that does not heal itself. Over time and with more exposure to noise, more and more hair cells get damaged and your hearing worsens.

Because most earphones and headphones do not block out ambient noise (noise around the wearer), people tend to turn up the volume. The problem is that often they turn up the volume so high that exposure to it for a few hours may well cause hearing damage.  

How loud is too loud?

Sound is measured on the decibel scale, a normal everyday conversation in a calm environment is held at anywhere between 50 to 65 decibels. We can listen to sound at this level all day long without any problems. However, once sound is above 85 dB, we need to begin considering protecting our hearing. In industry, sound exposure over 85dB is carefully managed through time exposure limits. 

Many MP3 players can produce sounds up to 120 dB, that is the same level as a jet engine. At that level of sound, hearing loss can occur after only 30 minutes to an hour. The problem is that the damage may be difficult to recognise, hearing loss is a gradual progression. A colleague of ours calls it insidious. It is, in fact, an excellent word to use to describe the slow progressive damage which occurs before the person realises it.  

Take precautions

Many MP3 players and smartphones come with volume limiters, make sure they are turned on in the settings. Explain the danger to your children, knowledge is power. 

If you have any questions about what we have discussed here, or you would like a hearing test, give us a call.

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