Go to any mall or public place and you won’t have to look around too long before you’ll see someone listening to a personal stereo wearing ear buds. Often you can be halfway across the room and hear their playlist loud and clear. The popularity of personal stereos, such as IPods, and MP3 players, means more teens (and adults) are using ear buds to listen to music at high volumes for long periods of time. And it’s starting to cause a serious problem in the form of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.
How loud is too loud? According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, “a whisper is 30 decibels and a normal conversation is 60 decibels. The sound from an iPod Shuffle has been measured at 115 decibels.” No question about it —that is loud.
According to Anne Oyler, CC-A, staff audiologist at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), this fairly new trend of extended ear bud use has already presented “a noticeable uptick in the incidence of hearing loss.” Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is painless and happens gradually over a period of time. Unfortunately, this means the damage can go unnoticed until it is too late.
“Long term use will cause damage, and this damage is permanent,” continued Ms. Oyler.
Researchers fear NIHL will soon be an epidemic. After evaluating a survey of 5,742 people from 1999 to 2004 aged 20 to 69, researchers at Johns Hopkins University determined that from 2003 to 2004 an estimated 29 million American adults had speech frequency hearing loss in one or both ears, and estimated another 55 million adults had high-frequency hearing loss in one ear or both ears.
It’s estimated that some hearing loss symptoms are being experienced by an estimated 8.5 % of young adults aged 20 to 29, and 17% of adults aged 30-39. Note that these ages are when the symptoms are showing up; the damage was being done when the subjects were teenagers.The Hopkins researchers concluded that hearing loss can reduce health-related quality of life and even access to health care.
“The results of our study suggest that prevention (through risk factor reduction) and screening must begin at least in young adulthood,” recommended Dr. Yuri Agrawal and his colleagues in a written statement.
In an effort to educate youngsters about the dangers of listening to music at high volumes for a long period, ASHA started the program “Listen to Your Buds,” and created the web site listentoyourbuds.org It includes music, two cartoon earbud characters, and two video games: “Turn Down the Volume,” and “Bump and Hustle.” There’s also a rap song, entitled (what else?) “Turn Down the Volume,” with lyrics so you can sing along. Visitors can also create their own e-cards starring these very cute cartoon earbuds.
Visitors to the site can also see clips from two recent “Listen to Your Buds” concerts by musicians Billy Jonas and Justin Roberts in Washington, DC and Chicago, respectively. They played for over 1,000 area school children. Web site visitors can watch brief videos of their concerts and hear comments from some kids in attendance who clearly got the message.
The “Listen to Your Buds” website also includes information specifically for parents and educators. ASHA would like parents to know that they conducted a study in 2006 and found that over half of U.S. high school students reported having at least one symptom of hearing loss.
As a parent (and ear bud user), how do you know if the volume is too loud? According to ASHA, noise exposure is “too loud if…”
• you have to shout to be heard
• speech sounds muffled or dull afterward
• you later have pain, ringing or buzzing in your ears
• you have difficulty understanding someone talking to you only who’s an arm’s length away
If you’re looking for some help in keeping the volume down, here are some of ASHA’s prevention tips:
• Avoid and limit exposure to noise
• Don’t buy noisy appliances, equipment, or toys
• Wear hearing protectors such as ear plugs or ear muff – some protectors can cut noise levels by 15-30 decibels
For more information visit, www.listentoyourbuds.,or check out the fact sheets available at the American Academy of Otolaryngology web site, entnet.org/HealthInformation/. Both sites offer information in Spanish.
By Deeanna Franklin Campbell
Deeanna Franklin Campbell is Chesapeake Family’s medical and health columnist.