A young woman listens to music on her phone via her headphones

Hearing loss is commonly thought of as an age-related phenomenon, but damage to hearing is trending in the wrong direction among youth who aren’t educated about the risks — or who simply don’t think they’re doing any harm. An analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO) of data from middle- and high-income countries indicates that nearly 50 percent of teens and young adults (ages 12 to 35) are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from personal audio devices, like smartphones, or in entertainment venues.

Earbuds are everywhere. You’ve seen them hanging out of the ears of kids in schools, average people strolling sidewalks in your neighborhood, and health-conscious folks trying to get a good workout at the gym. Though the prime demographic of earbud users — about 1.1 billion teens and young adults — is at risk of hearing loss because of loud listening habits, that number may be nearly as high for users over the age of 35 as well. A 2014 Nielsen survey found smartphone ownership (with accompanying earbuds) to be 71 percent in the U.S. for men and women over the age of 18, many of whom aren’t aware of just how loud their earbuds can be.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology reported that earbud users experienced a sound level of 102 decibels (dB) when their iPhone®, iPod®, or iPad® volume was maxed out, which is well over the 85-dB point at which hearing damage begins. Teens who attend concerts or go to nightclubs often are also at risk, as the average nightclub DJ is exposed to a near-identical 103 dB.

Occasional loud listening for a few minutes at a time probably won’t cause immediate damage, but prolonged listening does. By reducing the volume to a maximum of 80 dB, you can safely listen for as long as you’d like. That said, removing the headphones to venture out into an astonishingly noisy city might be an even greater danger, because loud noise isn’t just in your earbuds.

Noise levels at hockey games average nearly 100 dB for the 3.5-hour duration of the game, and World Series baseball games are close at 96.7 dB. A recent survey of the New York transit system revealed maximum levels of 106 dB on subway platforms, 112 dB inside subway cars, and 89 dB at bus stops. Heavy traffic on a hot summer day can breach 90 dB. Noise levels under motorcycle helmets have measured up to 116 dB on highways. Even many children’s toys have absurdly dangerous sound levels, with toy mobile phones and toy guns sounding off at 122 dB and 150 dB, respectively, when held close to the ear, as children have a tendency to do. Sound levels above 150 dB can cause pain and immediate damage.

Finding a quiet space is an important part of de-stressing. Recent research from Penn State University shows that natural sounds — such as tumbling water, birdsong, or wind rustling through trees — has a direct beneficial effect on our bodies and mental states. Exposure to natural sounds speeds up recovery from stressful events. Unfortunately, these sounds are often the first to go when an individual experiences hearing loss. Prevention is the best medicine for hearing loss, but education is lacking when it comes to healthy listening habits geared toward children, teens, and young adults.

In one study of 200 culturally diverse young adults ages 18 to 29, 17 percent of respondents thought noise-induced hearing loss could be cured by medication, whereas 10 percent thought it was cured with bed rest and 4.5 percent by a doctor. Another study found that 72 percent of young adults said they never wore hearing protection, and another online survey on the use of hearing protection at music venues found that only 14 percent of concertgoers wore hearing protection. When informed of the potential for permanent hearing loss, the number of people intending to use hearing protection increased to 66 percent.

Teenagers and young people can better protect their hearing by keeping the volume at 60 percent or less when listening to personal audio devices, by wearing earplugs when visiting noisy venues, and by wearing custom-fit noise-canceling earbuds. Take listening breaks after every few songs, and get your hearing tested to help maintain your awareness of your hearing health.

Nothing fits like an earbud made for the unique contours of your own ears.

Contact us to schedule an earmold fitting for custom earbuds that fit snugly and keep out excess noise, so you can listen to music at a volume that’s both healthy and comfortable!

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