iPod Danger: Is Loud Music Making Us Deaf?

A grandfather and his granddaughter smiling and listening to headphonesCan you hear me now? Apparently many cannot.

The National Institutes of Health says that about 36 million Americans already have some degree of hearing loss. With the population aging, that number is projected to jump to 78 million by 2030.

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The issue is particularly problematic for children and teens. Audiologists at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt said long-term hearing loss is possible because of the proliferation of smartphones, portable gaming systems and media players. According to a Vanderbilt-led study, hearing loss is now affecting 20 percent of U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 19, a 5 percent increase over the past 15 years.

Audiologists at the Nashville hospital said if parents can hear sound coming from their child’s headphones while they are being worn, it’s too loud. A rule of thumb is the 60-60 rule, using only 60 percent of the device’s volume for no more than 60 minutes at a time. After 60 minutes, give your ears a break for at least an hour. Prolonged exposure to high volume exhausts the auditory system, experts say.

Following are some hearing tips from Dr. Ronald Hoffman, medical director of the Ear Institute at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary:

1. Get your hearing checked.

Just like some other health issues, the key to effective treatment is identifying hearing loss early. It takes people seven years, on average, from the time someone thinks they have a hearing loss problem to the time they seek treatment.

2. Be aware of which activities may post a threat to your hearing.

Years of exposure to loud concerts, bars and clubs, cranked-up stereos, personal music players, lawn mowers and other environmental noises may some of the reasons we are now seeing more baby boomers with hearing loss. A single loud noise, such as an explosion or a gun blast, can do permanent damage to the structures in the ear. But more often, it’s years of exposure to loud sounds.

3. Get checked out if you’re blasted by one of those single loud noises.

If, after exposure to loud sound, your ears feel full or there is a ringing noise, you have likely had a injury to your ear and you should seek consultation with an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (otolaryngologist, ENT). You should wear hearing protection when around loud sounds for a long period of time. Examples of sounds to be avoided include firecrackers, drills, train horns and screeching and firearms. There are different types of hearing protection such as foam earplugs, earmuffs and custom hearing-protection devices.

4. Turn down the volume on your MP3 player.

This one is simple: The rule of thumb is that if you are wearing ear buds or headphones, no one else should able to hear the music.

5. Get a hearing aid if you need one.

If you have a hearing loss, a properly fitted hearing aid will improve your life. Modern hearing aids are small, discreet, high-tech computers, constantly being refined and developed to provide a more natural sound.

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