Hearing loss in U.S. teens shoots up

December 6, 2010 8:11:29 AM PST
Blasting out a few rockin' tunes on that mp3 player may be blowing out your kids' hearing.

More than 90 percent of young people listen to personal music players, which is a testament to the relentless drive of technology over the past 10 years.

Sadly, many people listen to those MP3 players with the sound cranked up to full volume for multiple hours each day.

Research shows that 66 percent of personal music player users are listening to music at louder than 85 decibels, which according to the World Health Organization can cause permanent hearing damage.

Several small studies have found that reported use of personal music players is associated with declining hearing function in adolescents and young adults. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study that found hearing loss amongst U.S. teen's age 12 to 19 had shot up from 14.9 percent to 19.5 percent since about 1990.

LONGER LISTENING, MORE DAMAGE: Hearing loss isn't only related to the volume of your music, but also the duration at which you listen. Every time you increase a sound level by three decibels, listening for half as long will produce the same amount of hearing loss.

Earphones inserted into the ear canal produce sound waves, which can exceed 120 decibels -- a similar level to a jet leaving the runway (and just about as loud as a live rock concert).

Since damage to hearing caused by high volume is determined by its duration, continuous listening to a personal music player, even at a seemingly reasonable level, can damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear that transmit sound impulses to the brain.

SAFE LISTENING: The Children's Hearing Institute (CHI) recommends that children not get exposed to loud noise over 80 decibels, while the average iPod is played at 100 to 115 decibels. Hearing experts recommend the 60/60 rule -- listening to personal music players for no more than 60 minutes at a time at 60 percent of maximum volume.

FUTURE: Hearing loss, which becomes more common with age, is creeping farther down the age spectrum.

An article in the journal Pediatrics estimated that 12.5 percent of children age 6 to 19, around 5.2 million -- have noise -- induced hearing loss.

In a worldwide survey conducted by the American Speech -- Language -- Hearing Association (AHSA), more than half of high school students showed at least one symptom of hearing loss.

For More Information, Contact:

Josef Shargorodsky MD, MPH
Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary
(516) 974 -- 3803
Josef_shargorodsky@meei.harvard.edu


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