It is not uncommon these days to see a teenager walking down the street with earbuds hanging from their ears, in fact it is uncommon to see one without them! You ask yourself “what’s the matter with kids today?” Well nothing really, except some of them are losing their hearing early in life even though research indicates that kids – you know, the ones with the ear buds permanently affixed to their ears – actually listen at higher volumes even when they recognize the damage done by exposure to loud noise over long periods of time.
One of those rebellion things? Maybe. Certainly, teens think they’re invulnerable. Didn’t we all? And didn’t we all do things we now consider kind of dangerous or just plain stupid?
It’s just fact, kids and earbuds are here to stay.
LESS IS MORE WHEN IT COMES TO iPODS
And a recent study of the listening habits of the modern teen produced even more surprising results. One thing is certain. It’s a problem. A hearing problem.
|Teens at risk for hearing loss|
Basic Teenager 101: breaking away from the control (and protection) of a parent. So, according to the study conducted on the teen crowd at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Children’s Hospital in Boston, when teens were pressured into turning down their iPods or MP3 players, they tended to crank the volume up even louder.
Now, that might be understandable when “totally-out-of-it-mom” gives the order to turn down the sound. Your garden variety teen rebellion. However, testers saw the same reaction even when peer pressure was applied, i.e. when friends told others to turn down the iPod, the wearer still increased the volume.
Keep in mind, these are kids who know the dangers that long-time exposure to loud music cause to hearing. They know they’re damaging their hearing. But here’s a question: when you were a teen did you own a Walkman? (A relic from the distant past that played cassette tapes on the go.) Did you think about hearing loss 25 years ago? Probably not. You weren’t thinking about hearing loss back when you were 16.
Is It A Macho Thing?
Tests also showed that teen boys liked to pump up the funk louder than their female counterparts. So, can we presume that teen boys have something to prove?
Head of the study, audiologist and doctoral candidate, Cory Portnuff put it this way. "We really don't have a good explanation for why teens concerned about the hearing loss risk actually play their music louder than others," he said. "But we do know that teens who knew what the benefits were of listening at lower levels had less hearing loss risk, which is why we believe targeted education is the key."
The results of the study, conducted by Portnuff, Associate Professor Kathryn Arehart from CU Boulder’s Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, and Brian Fligor, Director of Diagnostic Audiology at Children’s Hospital, were presented at the annual Hearing Conservation Conference held in Atlanta in February, 2009.
Other Findings – Good and Bad
As teens get older, the volume decreases. All part of growing up and getting smarter, but young adults listen at lower volume levels than teens. Pretty much expected.
Study leader Portnuff also stated, “The good news is that teens in the study who understand the benefits of listening at a lower volume have less risk of hearing loss.”
Still, the study showed that as many as 24% of teens pump too much sound – enough to cause current and future hearing loss – down the ear canal. However, Portnuff pointed out that this figure hasn’t changed much since the Walkman days.
However, back in the olden days, when you were a teen, you got a few hours of sound from your Walkman batteries. Today’s digital music players can run at top speed for 20 hours before recharging and the whole process starts over. So, okay, kids aren’t listening to their music any louder than we did back in the day. But they ARE listening to it longer. Look around any high school. If you don’t have ear buds dangling in between classes you are SOOOO last week.
Hearing Loss - The Damage Done
The hearing mechanism is delicate and complex, made up of numerous parts, all of which are required to function at optimum levels for optimum hearing. Loud noise exposure damages a part of the inner ear called the cochlea. This tiny, fluid-filled organ is lined with millions of hair-like structures that convert sound energy (waves) into electrical signals that are sent to the hearing centers of the brain for processing.
When these hair-like structures are exposed to loud noise over a long period of time they cease to function, or at least function to full capacity. “Over time, the hair cells can become permanently damaged and no longer work, producing hearing loss,” study author Portnuff explained.
Part of the problem is that the hearing loss takes place over time so it’s not perceived immediately. And kids keep blasting the weakened hearing mechanism until permanent hearing loss results. Today, hearing professionals are seeing patients in their 20s and 30s seeking solutions for noise-induced hearing loss. And unless something is done, the problem is only going to grow more serious.
Okay, if you or your children are addicted to loud sound all around it’s time to change some listening habits. Given routine breaks, the hearing mechanism has the amazing ability to heal itself, undoing the damage caused by loud noise non-stop.
Portnuff went on to explain, “Everyone does not share the same risk of hearing loss. Some people are born with "tougher ears" that allow them to listen to music relatively safely for longer periods. In contrast, those with "tender ears" may suffer ear damage even if they follow MP3 listening recommendations. There is really no way of knowing which people are more prone to damage from listening to music," he said.
"Damage to hearing occurs when a person is exposed to loud sounds over time," said Portnuff. "The risk of hearing loss increases as sound is played louder and louder for long durations, so knowing the levels one is listening to music at, and for how long, is extremely important."
So What’s Safe for You and Your Kids?
Obviously, lower volume is better, along with limiting the amount of time you or your child use an iPod or other similar listening device.
A 2006 study, also authored by Portnuff and Fligor, indicated that an individual could listen to an iPod at 70% volume (that’s very loud) for up to 4.6 hours a day using the standard ear buds that come with the music player without doing permanent damage.
BUT, that same study showed that listening at full volume for as little as five minutes a day can cause permanent hearing loss way too early in life.
Bottom line from that ’06 study? If you listen to an MP3 player or iPod at 80% volume for 90 minutes a day, giving your ears plenty of time to recover, you’ll avoid permanent damage. How hard can that be? 90 minutes of head bangin’ should be enough for anyone – even the kid with the green Mohawk.
But, it’s not about nagging your kid. It’s about pro-active education. The study did show that those test subjects who were educated about the dangers of noise exposure tended to be more careful in their listening habits – listening at lower volume and for fewer hours each day.
Nagging seems to have the opposite effect, causing teens to crank up the sound. Remember, they think they’re invincible. They believe they’re hearing is invincible, too. So skip the nagging and go right to a little education.
There’s plenty of information on the dangers of long-term exposure to noise on this site so give your kids a lesson in hearing loss.
They may groan today, but they’ll thank you tomorrow.
For more information on educating teens on noise exposure and safe listening habits visit: Protecting Kids from Hearing Loss: A Matter of Top Priority