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Child Hearing Loss: Many Cases are Preventable

During the month of May, which is a Better Hearing Month, you are probably reading a lot of articles about hearing loss – many of them hopefully right here on Healthy Hearing. That is great because, as the saying goes, information is power. Of course, information is even more powerful when you actually act upon it – by treating your hearing loss.

However, as with many other conditions that impact our physical and mental well-being, there are quite a few misconceptions about hearing loss. One of them is that hearing loss impacts predominantly older people.

Let us debunk this myth right here and now. True, hearing loss is the third most common condition affecting the elderly. However, only one-third of those with hearing loss are over 64.

You have probably seen these numbers before, but they bear repeating:

  • 3 in 10 people over age 60 have hearing loss;
  • 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 41-59), or 14.6%, have a hearing problem;
  • 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 29-40), or 7.4%, already have hearing loss;
  • At least 1.4 million children (18 or younger) have hearing problems.

These statistics prove that hearing loss affects people of all ages.

Lower the Decibels

Certain hearing disorders – such as congenital ones (3 in 1,000 newborns) – cannot be prevented. However, a vast majority of cases of hearing loss among young people are totally preventable because they are caused by the ears' number 1 enemy: loud environmental noise.

Just so we are on the same wavelength, here is the commonly accepted definition of excessive noise: Any noise levels louder that 85 decibels (dB) –for example, sounds emitted by busy city traffic or power lawn mowers - are considered by hearing professionals as potentially harmful.

That is why federal guidelines require hearing protection be worn in the workplace where noise levels exceed 85 dB. If adult workers can impair their hearing by being exposed to this level of noise, imagine what damage it can do to young ears.

Not sure what decibel levels to be on alert for? Better Hearing Institute has a very useful "Noise Thermometer" guide on its website. 

Prevent and Protect Early On

children and hearing loss
Help them to prevent hearing loss by educating on protection

We kid you not: the U.S. government survey data shows that approximately 5.2 million children ages 6 to 19 already have permanent damage to their ears' hair cells caused by exposure to loud noises. Sadly, these kids may suffer not only from diminished hearing, but also from impaired language development, ability to learn, and social interactions – all of which will negatively impact their lives if not stopped and treated in time.

Fortunately, stopping prolonged exposure to excessive environmental noises is relatively easy. Let's begin with children's toys.

You wouldn't think that anything as innocuous as a toy could harm the kids' ears, but the reality proves otherwise. Each year, researchers at the Minnesota-based Sight and Hearing Association (SHA) purchase most commonly available toys to assess them for noise levels.

In 2009, they found 15 popular toys that create racket equivalent to a chainsaw in the child's ear canal. And since young children tend to play with their toys over and over again, the potential for noise-induced damage is truly alarming.

What can a concerned parent or a grandparent protect against the causes of hearing loss in children? The SHA recommends the following steps:

  • Listen to a toy before you buy it. If it sounds loud to you, it's too loud for your child.
  • Control the volume. Look for toys with on/off switches and volume control. If a toy is loud, place clear packing tape over the speaker of the toy. This will help reduce the volume.
  • Report a loud and potentially hazardous toy to the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772.

Sound of Music

You never thought of music as dangerous, did you? It is not dangerous unless it is very loud, and, unfortunately, that's how young people these days like it.

According to American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), "The explosion of mobile media and potential for misuse among young people, has led others to raise warning flags and call for more public education. The most recent in a series of studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation about media use among 8- to 18-year-olds found that, in the past five years, ownership of iPods and other MP3 players rose dramatically, from 18 to 76 percent. This statistic is particularly alarming given that in 2009 leading authorities predicted a rise in hearing loss nationally due to unsafe use of personal audio devices."

This is clearly a frightening fact, but the real problem lies in how this equipment is used (or should we say abused) – instead of being kept at a safe volume, users prefer to hear blaring music that exceeds the 85 dB safety threshold and reaches over 100 dB. And since personal players offer a longer battery life, kids listen to these toxic noises relentlessly.

Of course, loud concerts, where the volume of music and screaming fans can easily go over 100 dB, are just as bad. Is it any wonder that rockers like Phil Collins and Pete Townshend, as well as numerous other musicians, suffer noise-related disorders such as hearing loss, partial deafness, and tinnitus relatively early in life?

In fact, the magazine Pediatrics published a survey several years ago in which 60 percent of respondents reported tinnitus after attending a concert or another loud music venue, and more than 40 percent reported temporary hearing loss after such an event. Hearing loss can become permanent if exposure to such loud music – either at concerts or through portable listening devices – becomes regular, assaulting the defenseless ears with more noise than they can safely handle.

Quiet, Please!

Fortunately, there is a way to enjoy the music and protect your hearing. How? By being informed, smart, and pro-active.

This is what you (or your kids) can do to prevent lasting damage:

  • When listening to music on iPods, lower the volume to a safe level – not so low that you can't hear anything, but not so loud that your brain feels like it is being pounded on by a jackhammer. As with everything in life, moderation is the key.
  • Take breaks from listening. There is no reason why you should have an iPod hanging from your ear every minute of the day. Put it away, enjoying instead nature's own "music," such as the chirping of the birds.
  • At concerts where loud music is performed, use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones that muffle the sounds somewhat while still permitting you to enjoy the experience. And you may be surprised at how you can actually hear the lyrics!

Remember: no matter how old (or young) you are, you are not immune to hearing loss – unless you take steps to prevent it.

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